While Danny had initially been skeptical of Don's sudden call for truce, he managed to make it to the weekend without any disastrous incidents. His friendship with Don had returned to its original glory and they had actually gone out the evening before to a sport's bar to eat, drink, watch the Rangers game, and attempt to pick up women. The picking up of women didn't actually work out so well, but neither guy had his heart in it. Both were content to enjoy the return of their friendship.
Danny coasted to a stop in front of an old, three-story brick building. Pulling off his helmet, he secured it to the bike and ran a hand through his "helmet hair" as he sized up the building in front of him. Not just a building, though. My new home. He smiled as he got off the bike and started up the front walk.
It was only by chance that he had found this place. At the beginning of the week, he had been called to a scene a few blocks away. It had been around lunchtime on Monday and when he had finished collecting his evidence he had stopped in this area at a deli right next door for a bite to eat. It was only when he had left the deli that he noticed the sign posted outside the apartment building advertising availability. Despite the crime scene only three blocks away, Danny knew that this area had a pretty low crime rate, compared with the rest of the city. Conveniently, it was also located closer to the lab, so he could cut down on the commute a little bit.
Caught in the predicament of getting the evidence back to the lab as soon as possible and wanting to check out the available apartment, Danny finally opted for running in to get some quick information and possibly setting up a time to view it later before heading back to work. Luck finally seemed to have been in his favor that day as the elderly landlady who owned the building actually lived in it as well, so he spoke briefly with her and she was kind enough to set up an appointment with him for that very evening when he got off work.
Now here he was, five days later, ready to pick up his key so he could start moving in before his shift began in the afternoon. Walking thru the door, he spied the landlady, a Mrs. Mason, in her little office with another individual. As there were no chairs to sit on in the hallway, Danny found himself a bare patch of wall to lean against. While he was only kept waiting for a few minutes, he managed to watch the comings and goings of a couple of tenants, even starting up a short conversation with a young man named Benjamin, a jazz musician at a local lounge who had immigrated to America from Germany four years before. In the course of the conversation, Danny quickly learned that Benjamin was going to be one of his next-door neighbors. When Benjamin learned he was talking to his future neighbor, he assured him that Mrs. Mason had a noise ordinance in the building, so Danny wouldn't be kept up all night by the sounds of him practicing next door.
Mrs. Mason's guest departed, but instead of coming out to meet Danny, she putted around the room, poking under and around piles of papers on her little wooden desk. It wasn't until she came out a moment later that Danny saw his application in her hand.
"Mr. Messer," she greeted him with an outstretched hand. As he shook it, she greeted Benjamin as well and he cordially returned the salutation before bidding them both farewell. Looking back at Danny, she said, "Come in! Come in! You're right on time. Forgive me for dawdling. It's not very often my daughter gets out this way to see me. She works a hard job up in Bridgeport that gives her very little time off to come see her old mother."
Danny flashed a broad smile. "Not a problem. I live in the same city as my mom, and it's still hard to find time to go see her." Once in her office, Danny sat himself across from her as she scanned the application that Danny had filled out earlier in the week.
"It says here you're a cop."
"Crime scene investigator." It was out of his mouth before he could stop it.
"What's the difference?" She was staring at him now over the top of the paper. Danny didn't know why, but he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. It was the same look his mother used to give when she was trying to get the truth out of him. Except in those cases, he usually had just gotten into trouble over something. He didn't know why this woman he barely knew could have that same penetrating gaze that reduced him to a humbled child...
"It's a little more complicated than being just a cop, but essentially the same thing."
"Hmph." She went back to scanning before she set the paper down sharply on the desk. "I have some ladies that come over every Thursday night. My little weekly bridge club. I told them about the fine young man who was looking to rent from me. They wasted no time in advising me against letting you live here once they learned you were a cop. Said you would only bring trouble with you." Danny's heart sank in his chest. He had spent all week researching the neighborhood in more detail and fixing up the apartment in his mind's eye, and now it looked like it was going to be yanked away from him. Once they had gotten passed the pranking, Danny actually found he enjoyed rooming with Don, but, he still felt the yearning of a place to call his own. Some place he could decorate however he wanted. Some place he could leave dirty dishes in the sink without a care about how long they would sit there. Some place where he could leave his clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor and not worry about what anyone said. Trying not to look too upset, he tuned back into the conversation when he realized Mrs. Mason was watching him, silent as could be. "You tuned out just after I told you about what my bridge club thought, didn't you? Didn't hear a word I said about what I thought, did you? Thought you were losing the apartment before you ever signed the lease?"
Danny's jaw dropped. Not knowing how to respond, he shrugged his shoulders sheepishly.
"I don't care what my bridge club thinks. I met you; they didn't. Contrary to what they think, I'd actually feel safer with you living here. Though, I do still see their point. As a cop, you can bring safety and security home with you…or you can bring trouble. You'll do everything in your power to leave your work at work?" The last was a question that required an answer.
Danny nodded vigorously. "Absolutely! If I feel any of my work will follow me home, I won't come back until its safe." While it was rare, it wasn't unheard of. Grudges were formed against law enforcement daily, and there was the rare occasion that those seeking vengeance would act upon their feelings. Danny wasn't going to put innocent people in harm's way if he could help it.
Mrs. Mason beamed at him and slid the lease across the table.
Danny whistled as he started unpacking the first of many boxes he had brought from the storage unit he had had to rent after the fiasco at his former apartment. Kitchen supplies. Picking it up, he carried it into the kitchen, setting it down on a counter. He had been so fixated on getting everything packed and out of the apartment, he hadn't bothered to label anything.
An hour later, the boxes were divided up into the rooms they belonged in and Danny found himself back in the kitchen again. Checking the time on his phone, he was surprised to see he had missed a text message from Don asking if he needed any help later that night when he got off shift. Danny replied in the affirmative before closing his phone and tossing it back on the counter. Wanting nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep, he suppressed a yawn before turning to the pile of boxes on the kitchen counters. He had a lot to do and only until noon the following day to do it. At least he had the furniture delivery to look forward to. The insurance company had given him enough money to pay for new replacements on his dining room table set, his bed, and his stereo. Despite his hesitation, Danny realized Aiden had been right and he had even upgraded his television to a new model. Danny had finally decided to go the route of thrift store shopping for his coffee table and bookshelves as he didn't care if they were new or not and for those he would have to dip into his savings a little bit.
Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he started pulling out cooking utensils and putting them away.
An insistent knock came at the door, jolting Danny to full alert. He found he was slumped over the kitchen counter, an assortment of kitchen utensils clutched in his hand. The knock came again and Danny jumped up, scattering the utensils across the counter. Leaping over a large box on the floor, he grabbed the doorknob and flung the door open.
Two moving men stood outside, looking impatient to be kept waiting, the large wooden frame of a king size bed propped up against the wall behind them, rather inconveniently blocking his neighbor's door across the hall. Quickly stepping aside, he allowed the burly men entrance, shoving boxes out of the way of their goal in getting his bed frame into his bedroom.
Leaving them to their work of setting it up where he directed, he went back to the kitchen to continue where he had left off.
The frame was quickly set up and the box-spring and mattress installed on top of it. Danny had just finished up with emptying two kitchen boxes when the guys came out of the bedroom and asked Danny where he wanted the table located. As it was a dining table and the dining room was obvious in its location within the apartment, Danny was a little confused by the question and just pointed at the large empty spot cleared out just for the table. The guys shrugged and took off out the door and down the stairs.
Convinced his sleep-filled mind was playing tricks on him, Danny just shrugged it off and turned back to the box in front of him. Tired of working in the kitchen, he moved into the bathroom to start putting stuff away in there. Ten minutes later, he heard the sound of the guys moving the table into the apartment, complete with a ton of grunting as they maneuvered it into place. Now Danny was thoroughly confused. Looking at the display at the furniture store, he would never have guessed that it could be so heavy. It was only wrought iron and glass with four matching chairs.
After a loud thunk echoed through the apartment he hurried into the living room to see what was going on. His jaw dropped so fast, it almost set off the smoke alarm.
"Wha—? How? Whe—?" For whatever reason, he couldn't get the words out of his mouth the questions that, quite obviously, needed answering at this point. He made a few more random noises that resembled nothing close to the English language before finally finding his voice. "What is this?"
"It's what ya order'd, Mista Messer," one of the deliverymen answered, his voice thick with an Irish accent. He crossed his arms over his burly chest as if daring Danny to argue with him. Danny was too incensed with the situation to notice.
"This is not what I ordered!" Danny practically shouted. Taking a deep breath, he continued, "I ordered the Urban 5-piece dining set."
Looking incredibly smug, the deliveryman pulled an invoice out of his pocket and gave it a quick glance. "It says here ya order'd the Catania Alabasta' Billiard Table." He was about to put the invoice back in his pocket when Danny held out his hand and demanded to see it. Sure enough, the invoice showed delivery of a king size bed with mattress and a billiard table.
"That's not what I ordered," Danny repeated, though the conviction from earlier was slowly fading. Had a mistake been made? Spinning around, he went rifling through his lease papers in a kitchen drawer, sure that he had also put his copy of the invoice from the furniture store in there. The invoice the salesman had given him the day he had paid for everything.
Locating it, he whipped it out, prepared to defend himself against the fraudulent invoice the deliverymen brandished, only to have his breath catch in his throat. His copy also showed the bed and the billiard table.
"No, no, no, no, no..." he moaned. What had happened? He was sure he would have noticed if the order hadn't been right, right? The last few weeks were such a blur to Danny, he couldn't be convinced of that. "This isn't what I intended to order, so you have to take it back. We have to get this straightened out."
Before Danny was even done speaking, the deliverymen were both fervently shaking their heads. "We just hauled that thing all the way up two flights of stairs; there's no way we're taking it back down. The mistake wasn't on our end, it was yours. You should have caught it if it wasn't right. Now it's between you and the manager, and she's out for the day. Sign our manifest and let us leave."
Danny was on the verge of continuing to argue the point, but they were right. If the mistake had been when the sale had been going down, he should have caught it. Grudgingly he signed the delivery receipt and the men left. He closed the door behind them and leaned against it, spending the next several minutes just staring at the billiard table. He had to admit, it was a nice table. He rubbed his eyes in frustration, cursing this huge mess he was in. Now where was he going to put his dining table?
Accepting that there was nothing he could do about it now, he was about ready to toss the invoice on the counter, when something caught his eye. He picked up and looked at the itemized total for his order. Then he looked at the table and back at the invoice. This table was the exact price of the dining set he was supposed to have received. He looked at the table again. It was way too nice to have only cost six hundred dollars. It was quite obviously not a high end table, but it wasn't cheap either. He looked back at the invoice and noticed something else that started his blood boiling. His signature...wasn't his signature! It was very close that anyone would have accepted it as his, but his CSI trained eyes picked out slight inconsistencies. It was a forgery.
He picked up his cell phone and was halfway through dialing the number to the furniture store when he stopped. No, I'll go down there tomorrow and I'll figure out what on earth they're doing down there. He was actually starting to relish the idea of a physical confrontation. He shook his head as a morbid smile crossed his face. He hadn't actually run down a suspect since before the flood in his apartment and he hadn't realized until just then how much pent up frustration and energy that expelled. He was overdue.
As he was passing the table on his way back to the bathroom to continue unpacking, a piece of paper sticking out of a corner pocket caught his eye. He had been so focused on the issue of the billiard table that he hadn't noticed it before. Pulling it out, he was even more surprised to see that it was actually a card with his name written on it—in block letters, so handwriting analysis was difficult—which further convinced him that this screw up wasn't his fault.
Ripping open the envelope, he pulled out the card, a cheesy "Congratulations on your new home" card, and flipped it open to the inside. The signature he saw almost brought him to crumple the card up and storm out of the apartment...with a specific destination in mind. Don's familiar scrawl covered the inside cover:
Hey, buddy! As you've probably deduced by now, I had the last laugh, though a rather expensive one at that. Danny almost wished Don were here so he could laugh right in his face at how much lighter his bank account was. Before you storm out of your apartment on your way to murder me, I would like to state, for the record (and also testimonial against you at the murder trial), that this was in action before we made our truce. I really could not resist. However, as a peace-offering to ensure our truce is still in effect, I did want to let you know that this table was a gift, a housewarming gift, from myself and those at the lab. I suppose that means, in effect, that everyone was in on this last prank. It's yours to do with what you will. Cheers!
P.S. Your real dining set (excellent choice on that, by the way) will be delivered at 10AM tomorrow morning.
As angry as Danny would like to have been at that moment, the letter completely drained it out of him. While the initial discovery of a pool table in his apartment had shocked and angered him, apparently he had still come out on top—and gotten a really nice housewarming present out of it.
Unfortunately, it still begged the question of where to put it and Danny was left eyeballing his apartment with some trepidation.
Later that night...
Danny and Don were crashed on Danny's new couch, beers in hand, watching the Rangers game on Danny's new flat-screen television. Don had shown up an hour earlier with Danny's new TV, a six-pack, and a large box containing all the stuff Danny had been using at Don's apartment. They had wasted no time in mounting the TV on the wall and adjusting the couch directly center with it. Don had been about to drop onto the couch, when Danny shook his head and motioned for Don to follow him.
"Since this is all your fault, you get to help me move it." Don looked apprehensively at the pool table that Danny was standing at one end of. "Now."
"Now?" Don questioned. "I'll admit to having some strength in me, but we're talking about a pool table here."
"It's not going up or down any stairs. Since you screwed up my desire to turn this den" he motioned with his head to the room off to one side that was open and empty "into a home theater, you at least get to help me turn it into a game room. Now, lift." He pointed to the end Don was supposed to get.
"So, I know you somehow got a fake invoice made with the cooperation of the store, but how did you get it into my kitchen drawer." Danny asked.
Don paused from his survey of his end of the pool table to look up at Danny. "Honestly, I had no idea you had it in your kitchen drawer. I just made the swap when you left it out on your desk at work." Danny's eyes screwed up in concentration as he tried to remember when that happened, but he gave up trying after a few seconds. Turning his attention to the table, he and Don started the grueling process of moving it to the den.
It took twenty minutes of hard work to maneuver the pool table into the den area, but they finally managed it. With beads of sweat pouring down their faces, they finally collapsed onto the couch and Don broke out the six-pack. Danny had decided long before Don had shown up that he was done unpacking boxes, so it left a fairly laid back evening for them, which Danny was actually grateful for. He had made a considerable dent during the day, but he was exhausted, especially after moving the table.
They had just started the third period in the game when a knock came at the door. Danny gave Don a quizzical sidelong glance, but Don shook his head. "I'm as clueless as you are." Instead of getting up, Danny hesitated, wondering if whoever was there would just go away. The knock came again.
It took all of his strength, but he managed to extract himself from the couch. Upon opening the door, he was taken aback to see Mac standing there. He held up a gift bag, though when Danny reached for it, Mac held it back.
"You take this with the strict understanding that no more prank wars will come anywhere near my lab, nor will they involve any of my employees." Mac's face was so dead serious that Danny's heart jumped into his throat. He nodded in reply and Mac handed over the gift bag—and a long, narrow wrapped box that had been leaning against the outer wall of the apartment. "Now, are you gonna invite me in to catch the rest of the Rangers game, or what?"
Danny lifted the box up onto the pool table, scattering the billiard balls into the pockets. Mac's gift the evening before had been the balls and the cue sticks, and, after the Rangers game had ended, they had each taken a turn at breaking in the new set. Who would have thought that Mac was a closet billiards master? They hadn't played for much, just a pool of twenty a person, which had walked out the door with Mac. All in all, Danny was glad for the gift. He enjoyed his fair share of playing, and now that he had his own table, he could work at improving his game.
Unfortunately, none of that mattered at the moment. Right now, Danny was focusing on locating his toothbrush and toothpaste from the box of his personal effects that Don had brought with him. Poking through the box, he located them, along with the gift bag that Kourtney had given him the last time he saw her. Realizing he hadn't actually looked inside, he decided it was overdue. He reached inside and pulled out a cute, fluffy teddy bear with a navy blue ribbon around his neck. His hands closed involuntarily around the bear's neck, but he loosened his grip. As much as Don's antics were trying his patience, the bear was from Kourtney, a gift she didn't have to give him. He was about ready to set the bear aside and finish getting ready for his shift in a few hours, when something about the bear caught his eye, writing on the parts of the ribbon hanging down in front of the bear's stomach. Bringing it closer to his face, he noticed the light gold embroidery spelled out Kourtney's name on one side and a phone number on the other. He smiled.