I chucked the file and its fresh autopsy report onto my desk and turned away from my cubicle to head for the coffee machine. It was about time for a cup o’ joe and a look at the usual Monday doughnut selection. I realized I’d left my coffee cup on my desk and turned back.
“Are you my daddy?”
The voice came from behind me, so I swiveled, fully expecting that the female with the question was going to be some adolescent who’d mistaken me for another cop. What met my eyes was the last thing I expected: a honey blonde, maybe eighteen, nineteen, years old, far too old to be my daughter. And she was smirking at me. “What?”
“I asked, ‘Are you my daddy?’ Didn’t you hear me the first time? Are you deaf or just stupid?”
“Listen, kid, I don’t have time for this. You know I’m not your father. Get lost.”
The captain walked up, and patted the young woman on the back. “Play nice, Striker. This is your new partner, Angelica Piccolino from Vice.”
Laughing, she nearly doubled over with mirth. My face heated, not with embarrassment, but with blazing irritation. Who was this Angelica Piccolino, and how was I going get rid of her?
“Cute,” I said. “You sent me a high school student to work on a homicide. Why would I ever think you were putting me on?” If my tone was gruff, I had a right. No one likes to be the butt of a joke.
“Aw, keep your pants on, grandpa,” said the petite thorn in my side. “I’m fully qualified.”
Okay, so I snorted. Probably not the most adult thing I could have done, but not as juvenile as laughing out loud. How could a pint-sized, snot-nosed girl be qualified to work on a homicide? “You’re from Vice?”
This time, Captain Donati spoke up. “Don’t be such a hard-ass, Striker.”
I thought about it during the three-second pause in the conversation. Donati was trustworthy, and a conversation about the suitability of my new partner should not take place in the cubicle farm. “Yeah. Just surprised, is all.” I gave the girl a steady stare, hoping for a little intimidation. “And that was not the best way to introduce yourself, Piccolino.”
She had the nerve to shrug, grinning. “Gotcha good, though, didn’t I?”
A corner of my mouth almost turned up, but I stopped the grin from coming on. “Yeah.”
“You had the stupidest expression on your face, Striker. Priceless. You looked like a scorned cow.”
I didn’t even address that caustic remark, and perhaps it was small of me, but I was rather proud of my ability not to bite her head off. Instead, I took the bull—no, make that the cow—by the horns. “Captain, I need to talk to you in your office.”
His expression turned wary. “Is it about your case?”
It was only a slight prevarication when I said, “Yeah.”
“Okay, but Piccolino should be in on it.”
“I don’t think so. Not this time.”
“Hmm.” Maybe he was concerned about getting the little girl’s feelings hurt, or maybe he was just curious about what I had to say. Whatever his reasoning, he nodded and turned away. “Piccolino, your desk is across the aisle. Striker will be right back to help you get up to speed.”
Was that a pout on her lips? “Sure, Cap. I’ll straighten my pencils or something.”
I tried not to be too smug as I followed Donati to his office. He had a corner, closed office with lateral blinds that hid particularly difficult conversations from the view of the situation room. Lots of prying eyes tend to pop up over the cubicle walls when the Captain’s blinds go down.
We went in and I closed the door.
Donati and I both sat. “What’s this about, Striker? Problems with the case already?”
“Not exactly, sir. More like with the partner you’ve given me. I’ve been operating pretty well since Smitty retired. I don’t need a wet-behind-the-ears rookie to babysit.”
He leaned back in his chair and looked at me, his eyes inscrutable. Perhaps five seconds passed. I began to think I was supposed to say something else, but finally, he spoke. “Piccolino is qualified, Striker, or I never would have assigned her to you. She was one of the best detectives on the Vice squad, an undercover operative who pulled in the bad guys like nobody’s business. But she became a known quantity on the street. Crooks had a habit of getting put away when she was around, and it seemed wiser to give her a different assignment where she could be herself.”
“She looks like a teenager, sir. She even dresses like a teenager. Since when does a pink hoodie and a miniskirt qualify as professional clothes? How does that reflect on the department?”
“Yeah, I already talked to her about that. She’ll be more business-like in the future.”
I had my doubts, but kept them to myself. “How old is she? Twenty? How’d she get promoted so fast? Was she that hot with Vice?”
“She’s twenty-six, but you could have asked her yourself. Piccolino just looks like a teenager. It’s gotten her pretty far, but she’s done her time on the team. I think you’ll find her knowledgeable. The only thing is…”
Oh, great. There was a but in there. “Yeah?”
“She’s a little bit of a hotshot. Takes chances when maybe she shouldn’t. When she was out on the streets with punks on her case, she had to be sharp and steady working on her own. It got her used to risky police work.”
Honest to God, I tried not to grit my teeth. My dentist would have caught me, but Donati didn’t. “So, I’m supposed to keep her in line, while training her for the Homicide division, and solving crimes. Piece of cake,” I said, scowling.
“Damn it, Striker. Stop whining and get to work. You have a partner. She’s talented. You have experience and will be perfect for showing her the ropes. Now, get outta here.”
Maybe I was whining. The thing is, I enjoyed working on my own. When my partner retired, it was like I’d been freed from lock down. I could handle the cases the way I wanted to, following a logical progression, rather than following hunches and guesses. Sure, sometimes a hunch can lead you to an answer, but just as often they waste your time. Maybe Piccolino was meticulous, too. I wouldn’t know if I didn’t give her a chance.
“Okay,” I said as I rose and turned toward the door.
“Oh, and Striker—“
“Don’t fuck it up.”
What could I say to that? I twisted the doorknob and made my silent exit.
The coffee was fresh and hot from the industrial Keurig, and I popped a doughnut hole in my mouth, chewing the soft, greasy, sugar bomb as I made my way back to my cube. I poked my head into Piccolino’s space, intending to make peace, but she wasn’t there. Maybe she had to pee. I shrugged and walked across the aisle to my own desk.
There she was. Sitting in my chair, at my desk, poring over the case file I’d left there. She spoke up before I could give her a piece of my mind.
“Quiet as a yak.”
“Are you always so abrasive, or do I bring out your finer qualities?”
“This is how I roll, Striker. Get used to it. Time to enter the modern world where women don’t simper.” Finally, she looked up from the file. I saw that the autopsy report was on top.
“Get out of my chair.”
She closed the file folder, rose and took the chair next to the desk. “Fine. Your chair is shit anyway.”
“Geezus, Piccolino. You’ve got a mouth on you.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” she said, examining her nails.
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