Corbie Price and Chaz Malone were sitting at a corner table in the newly remodeled Kettle of Fish when Nick arrived. Price, with his orange-paisley-bandana-wrapped head and gold ear-ring looked like a Somali pirate, but he was probably the best street detective in the Borough. Chaz wore faded jeans and a white tee shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the left sleeve. He was blond, blue eyed, and cut like a weight lifter. There was a tattoo of an anchor and the words Davey Jones on his shoulder.
Price looked up and grinned. “Well lookit here, if it ain’t that big old desk jockey yusta yank our chain when we wuz kicking ass in the Sixth. Take a load off, Lieutenant. ”
Nick scowled, “It’s Detective now, paper grade. And thanks I will. ”
Malone asked, “So, whazzup Doc?”
“Not a helluva lot, Chaz, how about you?”
“Just bustin our butts as usual. You heard about Hendricks?”
“No, what about her?”
“Rumor is she’s due to get kicked upstairs, to Borough Commander, or Bureau Chief. She’s not lettin’ on though, gets kinda cranky when you ask her about it. ”
“Yeah, that’s Hendricks. Plays it close to the vest. Not a bad idea, the way shit flies around the Department. ”
The waiter came by and Nick ordered a draft, but Malone said, “Why don’t we just get a pitcher and save this guy some time. ”
“Hell, let’s order two. You guys are way ahead in the cheer department. I’d like a chance to catch up. ”
Price held up his half full glass in a toast. “Here’s to the sportin life, which ain’t egzackly the life of sports, but close enough. ”
Malone started to speak, but stopped, wondering whether he should mention it, then he said, “Chorniak’s back. ”
“Yeah? How’s he doin?”
“Okay I guess, kind of subdued these days. Hasn’t pulled one of his silly ass pranks in a while, and they sewed his ear real good, it just sticks out a little bit more than the other one. ”
Price laughed. “Sheeit, he looks like a mutt with one ear flopped !”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. I never meant to disfigure the jerk. "
Malone looked uncomfortable. “Everybody knows it wasn’t personal, Nico. ” He paused, then added, “How you feelin these days anyway?”
“What do you mean? I’m feelin fine, ‘cept for, you know, paper cuts and eye strain. ”
“Yeah, good, well, we were just wonderin . . . ”
He hesitated and Price cut in, “Let’s just lay it out, Chaz. Nico, it’s boring as tapioca these days. The new Loo is a tight ass number cruncher. We want you back bustin our chops like the old days. ”
Nick was touched. “I’d like that too, Corbie, I surely would, but it’s not up to me. ”
Malone said, “Well, actually, it kinda is, or uh, you know, it might be?”
Price shook his head. “What monkey mouth is tryin’ to say is that IAB would take another look pronto if you’d do a few rounds with a counsellor. ”
Nick felt himself getting hot, and his breathing quickened. He felt surrounded, smothered, trapped.
The beer came and he poured himself a glass, took a long drink before he answered.
“Yeah, well, I thought about it, but I don’t see what good it will do. ”
“We ain’t saying anything’s broken, bro, it’s just, you know, for the brass. ” Malone added, “They want to move you back, but they need some paper. ”
“Paper? Fuck, don’t they have enough paper in the NYPD? The Department’s drowning in paper. Besides, I haven’ had any, uh, incidents since I left the Sixth. I’ve been sending them letters telling them so every week. That should be good enough. I’m not gonna spill my guts to some office boy with a bullshit degree. ”
Malone looked disappointed. He opened both hands in a conciliatory gesture, and shrugged, “Hey, Nico, I’m sorry I brought it up. ”
Nick chucked him on the arm. “I understand. And it means a lot that you guys want me back. I just don’t see myself sittin there like Tony Soprano mouthing off about anxiety attacks and stuffing myself with downers. ”
Price started laughing, and it went on, got deeper, like something had really tickled him.
“Oh shit, I love it, Nico Soprano, Capo Sensitivo, it breaks me up. ”
Nick didn’t know whether to be offended or take it as a compliment. All he said was,“Enough about shrinking heads. It’s a big bad city, boys. What do you want to do next?”