Flowers stared, fascinated, at the thick blue vein pulsing in the chief’s forehead.
“Chief Bagley has determined,” said Commissioner Greene, “and I support him in this decision, that you two are not to speak with any press; therefore it falls upon he and I to make any statements on your behalf. I heard the story from him, but I'd like to hear your version before I step in front of the cameras. Gentlemen?” Carr’s elbow nudged Flowers gently in the ribs, and Flowers tore his gaze from where the chief sat in the corner, returning his attention to the police commissioner’s smooth, well-moisturized face.
“Well, sir,” said Flowers. “It was like this: we caught us a serial killer. Case closed.”
“Serial cannibal,” corrected Carr. “A cannibal’s worse, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” agreed Flowers. “You usually get some kind of award for catching a serial killer, but a cannibal? We should get a commendation easy.”
“Commendation?” said the chief from the corner of the room―a growl sounding more like a talking bear than a man. “Are you kidding me with this commendation crap? You guys were lucky she didn't―”
“Please, Chief Bagley.” The commissioner held up a hand. “ I'm just trying to hear their side of the story.” Flowers glanced at the chief again. The man even looked like a bear: bulky, and with a penchant for growing hair just about everywhere he had skin. Except for his forehead, where that vein was throbbing quite prominently.
“But, sir,” said the chief, beginning to rise.
“Please,” the commissioner repeated, holding his stare upon the chief until the larger man sank, grumbling, back into his chair. The small, neat man currently standing behind the chief’s desk gestured toward the two seated detectives. “Please, continue.”
“It was,” said Carr, “really just good old-fashioned genius police work.”
Strangled sounds came from the chief, but Commissioner Greene’s expression remained mild. “Please,” he said. “Elaborate.”
“Well, we walked into the establishment,” said Flowers.
“Kappy’s Liquors,” supplied Carr.
“And, thanks to our years on the force, we noticed the perp acting in a suspicious manner.”
“She flat-out asked you what wine goes with nine-year-olds!” shouted Chief Bagley. The commissioner held a hand up toward him again, eyes fixed on Flowers and Carr, nodding for them to continue.
“We engaged with the suspect to keep her busy while, uh, backup was called in.”
Bagley shot to his feet. “The clerk was freaked out that you were helping her choose a wine, and he called 911!”
“Yeah,” said Carr, turning toward Flowers. “Remember that rotgut Merlot she was holding? That was the real crime, that anyone would drink that stuff. What she needed was a nice Chianti―”
“I understand that when uniforms arrived on the scene,” interrupted the commissioner, “you already had your weapons drawn and IDs out?”
“Well, the dude behind the counter told us he’d called the police,” said Carr. “So I said, ‘We are the police.’ He didn’t believe me, so I flipped him the badge.”
“I skipped the badge and showed him my gun,” said Flowers, with a wink. “I’ve noticed people tend to show a little more respect if you show them the gun. The next thing we knew, Kappy’s was full of uniforms, all showing their guns, too.” He popped out a forefinger and thumb and finger-shot the commissioner. “It’s good to see the younger generation learning from our experience. Makes me proud.”
Chief Bagley was breathing like he’d just lumbered up five flights of stairs, and his skin, where you could see it through the hair, had gone a mottled, unhealthy-looking red. He raised his hands beseechingly toward Commissioner Greene, apparently unaware that his thick fingers were flexing spasmodically as if choking an invisible neck. “Do you see?” he said through clenched teeth. “Do you see what they’ve saddled me with? How do they expect me to run a department with―”
“They were the first officers on the scene,” said Greene. “They were the ranking officers on the scene, and they were identifying themselves as police officers. Even under these circumstances I don’t see how we can’t give them the collar.”
“Do you want the union on you over this? Over them?”
The chief remained silent, jaw muscles bunching as he ground his teeth.
“I thought not. If this gets out it’ll make the whole department look like a bunch of idiots, and I won’t have that. Not on my watch. And to that end . . .” He turned toward the seated detectives, leaning forward to plant his small fists on the desk blotter, and though his expression didn’t change his voice was suddenly ice cold and filled with menace. “If I even think you two have gotten within a mile of a reporter―and I don’t care if it’s just one of your own kids writing for the school paper―I’ll see to it that you finish out your careers answering domestic dispute calls. In Guam. Am I making myself clear?”
Flowers said, “I don’t have any kids, sir.”
He didn’t see the commissioner move, but suddenly the spare little man in the gray suit was around the desk, hands braced on the armrests of Flowers’s own chair, and they were nose to nose.
“Guam. Am. I. Clear?”