A/N: For the record, this fic is set to take place the year before H:LOTS started on the air. That's about it, so I'll leave you to it.

"New Year's murders are a pain in the ass. No one ever sees anything, no one ever knows anything, and meanwhile, we're standing out here freezing trying to figure out who pissed off who."

"If you didn't want to ride with me, you could've said back in the squad room. I'm sure I could've gotten one of the other guys to come with me."

It had started snowing again. As Kay spoke, she pulled her coat closer around her, casting a half-annoyed look over her shoulder in Beau's direction. He ignored it, and picked up where he left off.

"Never mind the fact that by the time we get here, half the people who might actually know something are already gone," he said. "No one wants to be out here in this weather."

"That's what you get for not wearing a coat," Kay told him dryly. "It's your own fault you're freezing. Think about it this way: at least once we're done here, shift is up."

"Yeah, and going home is really something to look forward to," said Beau. "Beth was already on one of her tears when I left; I'll be lucky if she hasn't changed the locks."

Kay looked at him with raised eyebrows, shaking her head. "What'd you do?"

"Apparently, this time, it was because I had to work tonight. I told her last week I was gonna be on shift tonight so she wouldn't go making any plans, and right before I leave, she tells me that we're supposed to be somewhere."

"But you left without talking to her about it, didn't you?"

"You think I wanna have Gee glaring at me all night because I came in late? I have enough to deal with at home as it is; last thing I need is someone on my ass at work, too."

"Where d'you think I've been for the past couple of years?"

"You're different."

"Because I'm a woman, right?"

"Hell, no. Because you're you. I can deal with you, because at the end of the day, you and I are still going to be partners, no matter how much we piss each other off."

"Maybe not, if one of us pisses Gee off."

"Nah. He's not gonna upset the balance. Everyone works perfectly well together; you and me, Munch and Bolander, Lewis and Crosetti…"

The crime scene tape had finally come into view as the two detectives continued through the crowd. Uniforms stood alongside the outer perimeter, in order to ensure that no one other than those who were authorized came through. Kay pulled her shield out of her pocket and pinned it to her coat, before motioning towards the uniform nearest to where she and Beau were now standing.

"Hey, Thormann," she said, "What've you got for us?"

"Your victim is female, thirty-two years old, and according to her friends, single." Officer Chris Thormann looked up from the notepad in his hand and continued. "Her name is Heather Carlson."

"You found an ID?" Beau asked. Chris nodded and handed him a small plastic evidence bag. In it was a Virginia driver's license.

"Says her home address is in Centreville, Virginia," Beau said after a moment. "She's a long way from home."

"That depends on who drove," Kay replied mildly. "Any of her friends say why she was up here?"

"Just that they'd planned on spending the long weekend together," said Chris. "They were out in the crowd here when shots rang out, but none of them noticed that Ms. Carlson hadn't followed them until they got back to the place they were staying."

"So they came back to look, and they found her here like this?" Kay asked. "When did the shots ring out?"

"About fifteen minutes before midnight, or so say the people that stuck around for the police," Chris replied. "Most of them started tearing out of here after the first shot; can't say I blame them, but trying to find them is gonna be a pain in the ass."

"Trust me, we know," said Beau. "Are her friends still here, or did they leave again?"

"No, they're here," said Chris. "There are only two of them; my partner's got them in the back of our squad car so they could keep warm."

"Thanks," said Kay, "We'll take it from here."

Chris nodded, briefly, and went back to his post on the outside of the crime scene tape; Kay glanced over at Beau and sighed.

"Remind me again why I answered the phone tonight?" she asked. He laughed.

"We were still on shift," he said. "Not like you had a choice. Look at it this way, Howie. You're the primary. That means there's a better chance that this one will get closed."

Kay rolled her eyes, and pulled her coat closer around her yet again. "We'll see about that."

"That's the whole problem with this job. Ain't got nothing to do with life. All we're dealin' with here is dead bodies and names in red. There's no life in all that."

"Except our own. We couldn't be standing here investigating murders if we were dead."

"That ain't the point. The point is that there are better things we could be doing on this here Saturday night instead of standing around at a crime scene freezing our asses off."

"Are you going to keep complaining, or are you going to at least attempt to make it look like this matters?"

Across town from where Beau and Kay were, Meldrick and Steve found themselves at yet another crime scene. At this one, it was completely silent. Streetlights flickered on and off overhead, and the occasional passing car was the only noise, besides that of the uniforms. Red and blue lights flashed from the top of the marked squad car, providing an almost eerie effect that both detectives ignored.

"I'm not saying it don't matter," said Meldrick, casting an exasperated look at the back of Steve's head. "All I'm saying is that this job ain't got nothing to do with life. I mean, look at this. What we have right here in front of us is a dead body, no witnesses, no leads…a stone-cold whodunit."

"But you aren't the primary," Steve said dryly, without turning around. "I am. You just happen to be along for the ride."

"Oh, I'm only along for the ride," said Meldrick. "I got you. You wanna play it that way, I might as well go sit myself back in that squad car you left running."

"The whole point of being partners is learning how to work together," Steve told him. "That, and the department would like to make sure that they have themselves covered, should anything happen to any of us."

"There's a fine way of looking at it," Meldrick replied, smirking. He followed Steve past the two uniforms across the crime scene tape, brushing snow off of his hat as he turned towards where the medical examiner was. "Hey there, Dr. Blythe…what have we got here?"

"John Doe, approximately fifteen years of age. Crime scene unit didn't find an ID." Dr. Carol Blythe looked up, raising a hand to shield her eyes from the snow as she did. "Cause of death appears to be stabbing, but I'll know more once I can get him on the table."

"And under some lights," Steve remarked. "Where the hell are we, anyway?"

"County line is over there," said Meldrick, pointing towards the end of the road they were on. "I get the feeling that this kid ain't where he's supposed to be."

Steve looked at his watch. "It's now 12:45 in the morning," he said, "Of course this kid isn't where he's supposed to be. Where he's supposed to be is at home or at a friend's house, neither of which is this place."

Around them, crime scene technicians moved around the narrow alley, completely oblivious to the fact that anyone else had arrived. The lack of lighting made it hard for them to see where they were going; there were a few narrow misses in the way of keeping from running into someone else, enough so that after a few moments, both Meldrick and Steve moved out onto the main sidewalk.

The crime scene tape had cordoned off a rather large area; even so, there was already a crowd gathered on the outside.

"Look at this," said Meldrick, an annoyed expression crossing his face. "This is sick. Ain't these people got nothing better to do?"

"Apparently not," Steve replied absently. "What I'd like to know is how a kid this age ended up all the way over here when he was most likely supposed to be hanging out with friends."

Meldrick ignored this, turning on the flashlight he was holding and wandering down the alley. A few moments passed before he spoke again, bending down to pick up something from the ground as he did.

"Could have been drugs," he said, holding up a small vial with a black top. "This one's still half-full, and there are more of 'em."

"Of course there are. Since when have you ever known there to be one vial of whatever when there are drugs involved?" Steve asked. He, too, walked down the alley and came to a stop just short of where Meldrick was. "What a way to go. This kid had his entire life ahead of him, and he threw it away for this?"

"Well, this stuff ain't cheap, that's for sure," said Meldrick. "Whatever it is, it cost him plenty."

"Sure it did," Steve told him dryly. "It cost him his life. Doesn't get much more expensive than that."

"Have you ever wondered what it is about alcohol that makes people want to get in someone else's face?"

"No, I haven't, and if you know what's good for you, you're not going to start wondering, either."

"Too late, partner. The thought has already entered my head, and now I want an answer. What is it about this stuff that makes good people turn into someone that they wouldn't ordinarily be?"

"Alcohol is a depressant, Munch. Even you ought to know that. Stop yakking at me and let's just get this over with."

Bar fights were among those cases that were sometimes easy to solve, and sometimes not. This was already starting to look like it was going to be a part of the latter group.

"How the hell is someone going to come in here, presumably to take a leak, and then not come back for three hours without anyone noticing?"
John asked, an expression between amused and exasperated crossing his face. "You can't tell me that people haven't been in and out of here all night since this guy died. Surely someone must have said something."

"That would be why you and I are here, now," Stan replied, glaring. "It's our job to figure out what happened. It is not the job of someone who doesn't know what they're doing."

"Who's to say that you and I know what we're doing?" said John, glaring back. "There are never any definite answers in this line of work."

"Nobody's asking questions yet," Stan told him. "Thank God you aren't the primary on this; it'd never get closed."

"Your confidence in my abilities as a murder police is astounding. How did I ever manage to go for so long without your approval?"

"What approval?"

The assistant medical examiner had already flipped the body. Blood was clearly visible now, pooling on the off-white tiles of the floor. Their victim's eyes were glassed-over, but still wide open.

"Multiple stab wounds," said the medical examiner, "But they weren't what killed him. Look at his neck."

As she spoke, she motioned with her free hand towards the victim's neck, where there was a clear sign of strangulation in the form of a thin red band all the way around.

"Wire, maybe," she said, "Or rope. I'll be able to tell you more once the autopsy is done."

"Figures," said John. He turned to face one of the uniforms standing nearby and continued. "Anyone leave since you called us here?"

"No. Everyone's exactly where they were. Half of them aren't even in any shape to go anywhere," came the reply. "We sealed off the exits to make sure no one could get out."

"Keep them in their seats, then," said Stan, without turning from where the M.E. was. "We're going to need to talk to all of them, preferably before the sun comes up."

It was already nearing 1:15 in the morning. This left them with a few hours, a fact that neither of them were too happy with, given that they'd already been up most of the night, but at the same time, neither of them could do anything about it. Both partners moved aside as the medical examiner moved to take the body out for transport to the morgue.

"Well, there's a fine way to star the new year," John remarked, shaking his head. "How many people do you think sit there on New Years' Eve and wonder if they're still going to be alive by the time the clock hits midnight?"

"I'm surprised you've stopped wondering," Stan replied. "Leave it alone, Munch. It is what it is, and nothing else."

"You ever going to get yourself a partner, or are you just going to keep flying solo?"

The question was one that Frank had heard before, often enough that he usually ignored it. A partner was one of the last things on his mind; during his time in the Baltimore Homicide unit, he hadn't had one, and was of the opinion that he didn't really need one, either. Technically, he knew, it probably would have been better for him to wait until one of the others could come along with him, but they had cases of their own, and all of them knew that the sooner they got a lead, the more likely it was that the case would get closed.

"I work alone, Sergeant Rogers," Frank replied, finally, casting a half-amused look towards the uniformed officer standing nearby. "You know that. What've you got for me?"

"Someone in the wrong place at the wrong time." Sergeant Sally Rogers looked up from the notepad she held and continued. "Your victim is one Detective Elizabeth Bowman. According to the one who found her, she's been on the mayor's security detail for the past year."

That alone spelled a redball, if nothing else. Frank wondered vaguely what sort of cases the others had picked up when they'd answered the phones on their own desks, knowing that none of them would be happy about being pulled for something like this. In all honesty, he wasn't too happy about it, either, but then, he was the one who'd answered this call.

"The mayor's security detail, you said?" he asked finally, and when Sally nodded, he went on. "It is now exactly 1:30 in the morning on New Year's Day. The mayor isn't likely to be in until tomorrow, so why would a member of his security detail be here?"

"Maybe she forgot something," Sally replied dryly. "The guy who found her is in the staff break room; he's pretty shaken up."

"Another member of the security detail?"

"Didn't say. I think he might be in shock. Couple of uniforms are with him now, CSU is inside, and the medical examiner should be taking the body to the morgue soon. Says Detective Bowman probably died around three hours ago."

Frank nodded, briefly at this, and crossed the crime scene tape that cordoned off the back entrance to City Hall. Sure enough, there was already a team of Crime Scene Unit technicians processing the scene: a dimly-lit back hallway, where there lay a sheet-covered body right outside one of the office doors. None of the lights in any of the rooms were on until the room at the end of the hall; the frosted glass in that last door made it impossible to tell beyond vague outlines that there were people in there. Frank pushed the door open and was immediately looked towards by the uniforms there; after noting the silver detective's shield on his coat, they turned away again and went back to talking amongst themselves.

The figure sitting at the table was staring out the window. His reflection was clearly visible in the glass, and there was no mistaking the stunned expression on his face.

"I take it you're from Homicide, then," he said, without turning around. "Don't you have a partner?"

Frank bit back the desire to roll his eyes. "My partner called in sick," he said, knowing it was a lie, but not particularly caring. "I'm afraid that means you'll have to deal with me. I'm Detective Pembleton. I take it you're the one who found Detective Bowman?"

"Yeah, I did." The figure turned around now, shaking his head. "Hard to believe anyone would want to kill her; she was easy enough to get along with. Came over here the same time I did."

"You want to tell me what your name is?" Frank asked, flipping open a small notepad of his own, and fishing through his pockets for a pen. When he came up empty-handed, the figure leaned forward and handed him one.

"Tim Bayliss," he said. "Detective Bowman was my partner. We've both been on the detail for about a year now."

"Either of you ever run into any problems?" Frank asked. Tim sighed.

"Our biggest problem is keeping the mayor from getting himself killed," he said. "It's not as easy as you might think."

Frank smirked. "I can imagine," he said. "What units did you and Detective Bowman come to the detail from?"

"I came over from QRT; Liz came over from sex crimes," Tim replied. "As far as I know, she didn't have any problems over there."

"And you?"

"Well, no one actually sees the person who takes the shot in those situations, now, do they?"

"Did Detective Bowman ever mention the work she did over in the sex crimes unit?"

"No. She didn't like to talk about it, and no one else ever asked. It was just one of those things that never really came up. The only thing she ever said was that she'd left with an open case under her name."

A name in red on the board, and a year of being away from the unit in which this case had fallen under. A slight frown crossed Frank's face at this, and he made a note to go by the sex crimes unit, to find out more about this case Elizabeth Bowman had left behind.

"You probably don't want to hear this, but I have to ask," he said. "Where were you at 10:30 last night?"

"At some hole-in-the-wall place over in the Eastern," Tim replied. "A few of the lot from QRT were with me."

"And they'll verify this?"

"Depends on what mood they're in." Tim trailed off, smirking faintly at the annoyed expression that Frank was wearing now before he continued. "Yeah, they'll verify it."

Silence fell between the two of them and lingered for a long while before Frank spoke again.

"Does Detective Bowman have a next of kin?" he asked.

"Her parents live over in Silver Spring, and she has a sister in the city," Tim replied, and then, "What are you going to tell them?"

Frank sighed, flipping his notepad closed and stowing it away again in his coat pocket before he answered.

"The only thing I can tell them."