Stupid Bar Tricks by Stellaluna

"I can stick a spoon to my nose," Aiden says.

"Big deal, everyone can do that," Stella tells her.

"Yeah, but can you walk around the room without it falling off?"

Stella considers. "You know, I never tried that. We should -- well, we should wait 'till later. I'm not drunk enough yet." She and Aiden laugh, and then high-five each other. Danny sinks down lower in the booth; beside him, he can feel Flack doing the same. Lay low; that's the name of the game. Not that it ever actually works, but Danny lives in hope.

Aiden and Stella are in a dangerous mood right now, the way they get after they've downed two or three gimlets (in Stella's case) or Fuzzy Navels (in Aiden's). He's been the victim of their drunken exuberance enough times by now to know the warning signs, as has Flack.

Talking about stupid bar tricks they can do may seem innocuous enough on its surface, but conversations that begin like this generally end with wandering around the city at 2:00 a.m. trying to find a particular kind of pizza, or with trips to the Pink Pussycat in the Village to test out vibrators. Or, if he's lucky and they let him off easy, something less publicly mortifying: puking in an alley, maybe, or leading a sing-along of Eagles hits. The night will almost certainly end with Stella or Aiden, or both, insisting on showing him and Flack their bras. ("Look at my bra, Danny, look," he remembers Aiden insisting one night around Thanksgiving last year. "I got it at the--this--this place in Soho, and it's got daisies on it...isn't it pretty?" He had made her stand still and buttoned her shirt back up before dragging her into a cab.)

Tonight, Danny is bound and determined not to get suckered into any such shenanigans. There are three good reasons not to, he reminds himself, shaking his beer in a careful circle and taking a small sip, trying to look inconspicuous. One, he has an early-morning appointment with Hawkes tomorrow, to hear the results of a recent autopsy. There's no way he'll be able to handle that on a hangover stomach, and he'd prefer to be coherent.

Two, after his little Pennsylvania excursion last month, he's gun-shy about getting into any more drinking-related legal trouble. Thank God Mac still hasn't found out about that, but Danny knows his luck would never hold twice.

Three, speaking of Mac, he's here right now, and Danny is not not not going to be embarrassed in front of Mac Taylor. No way, nuh uh; Mrs. Messer didn't raise no fools. Danny steals a sidelong subtle glance in Mac's direction. Mac's sitting at a chair pulled up to their booth, a mug of coffee in front of him, looking dismayed and skeptical in equal measure. He has not, yet, joined in the conversation except when asked a direct question, and then has answered only briefly.

Danny is surprised he came out with them tonight at all, but according to Stella, she had planted herself in his office and refused to leave until he agreed to come. ("And then he started acting like he was just going to turn out the lights and leave me there, the bastard, so I told him if he tried that, he was going to come in tomorrow to find his entire file system rearranged."

("And?" Danny had asked.

("And he's here now, isn't he?" Stella replied.)

Aiden downs about half of her drink in one go, then turns to Flack. "So what bar tricks can you do?" she asks.

Flack considers; Danny expects him to make a vain attempt to change the subject, but instead he says, "I can -- I can tie a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue."

Stella bursts out laughing, and Danny has to bite back a smile. Mac stares at something across the bar, poker-faced. Aiden says, "No, you can't."

"Can so."

"No, you can't."


"Bullshit yourself," Aiden says. "Ain't no way you, Don Flack, Mr. 'Lemme Get Drunk at the Christmas Party and Then Attempt to Hoover Your Tonsils Out of Your Throat,' have enough oral dexterity to pull that shit off. Nope." She holds up one hand as Flack begins to protest. "Don't wanna hear it. Don't even try it."

Stella has her head down on the table, laughing in a hiccupping, helpless way.

"Fuck you, Aiden, go get me a cherry and I'll prove it to you," Flack says.

"I don't--don't think they serve cherries here," Stella says, still chuckling to herself.

Flack turns to him. "Danny. Buddy. Pal. Back me up here. You believe me, right?"

Danny grins. "You're on your own with this one, Don."

"Fine. Fuck all'a you. I'm gonna go down to one of the street vendors tomorrow, and get some fucking cherries, and then you'll all be sorry."

"I don't think cherries are in season yet," Danny says, knowing he'll probably get beat for that, but unable to resist.

"Fuck you, too, Messer." Flack punches him in the shoulder, then drains the rest of his beer in one gulp and signals for another. "You are gonna be eating so much fucking crow when I show you who your daddy is."

Stella ignores this, and turns to Mac. "Mac?" she says. "Your turn. Boy Wonder here punked out on us. What's your bar talent?"

Mac stirs his coffee. "I can't think of any--" he begins, voice low.

Stella snorts. "All those years in the Marines, and you didn't learn one tiny, little bar trick?" She shakes her head. "Mmmm, no. Gonna have to call you out on that one, my friend."

Mac sighs. "All right. You know how to make five triangles out of nine matches without breaking them?"

Blank stares all around the table; Danny thinks he remembers this routine from college. He says nothing as challenges are issued and bets placed.

The game ends ten minutes later with further high-fives being exchanged between Stella and Aiden, and howls of "Bullshit! This is a bullshit game!" from Flack's direction. Mac just sits, smiling half to himself, collecting the matches and piling them in a napkin.

Danny is just beginning to think that maybe he's in the clear after all when Aiden elbows him, hard, and asks him what his big bar trick is.

"Um." He takes another sip of beer. "Nothin', really. You know. I could prob'ly come up with one a' those neat little match tricks like Mac just did, but I bet he knows them all." He sneaks a peek at Mac to see how this comment has gone over, and is relieved to see the smile still on his face.

"You must know something," Aiden insists.

Danny shakes his head.

"C'mon." Aiden leans over and squeezes his arm. "Won't you show us? Please? For me?" She blinks drunkenly at him, and Danny wonders how much coaxing he's going to have to do later to get her to sit still in the cab and behave herself.

"If I do," he says at last, "will you be good? Let us take you home without kicking up a fuss?"

She holds up one hand. "Girl Scout's honor."

He looks at her, then shrugs. It'll be easier, in the long run, to give in, and he does have one trick up his sleeve that's absolutely stellar, if he does say so himself. "Okay." He sets his beer down. "Somebody give me a cigarette."

Flack produces one from his jacket pocket.

"Beautiful." Danny takes it, and sits up straighter. "And, Mac? One of those matches, if you would...thank you kindly." He isn't even sure if he can do this any more; Jesus, he hasn't smoked in almost four years. But he'll make a performance out of it or die trying, he thinks.

"Now." He holds the cigarette up to eye level. "How many drags do you think it'll take to smoke this thing?"

Raised eyebrows, hazarded guesses. Mac, he notices, doesn't guess, though he's watching with what, in anyone else, Danny would call a fair degree of interest.

"All right." Danny lights the cigarette. "Please observe."

Danny takes a drag, feeling the burn in his lungs -- Christ, he's going to pay for this -- and holds it, sucking on the tip until it's burned down slightly more than halfway, at which point he has to breathe. He pauses and lets out a puff of smoke, noticing that the general giggling has stopped.

One more long drag, Danny sucking for all he's worth, and when it gets down to the filter, he drops it in the ashtray with as much nonchalance as he can muster. He looks up, feeling nauseated but triumphant, and Stella and Aiden and Flack stare at him with wide eyes.

He holds out his hands. "Ta-da."

"Holy shit," Aiden says in a soft voice, and Flack echoes it.

"Jesus, talking about sucking like a Hoover," Stella says. "Danny, honey, where were you when I was in college?"

"In junior high?" he says, and gets swatted for his trouble.

"That musta made you pretty popular with girls. Or whoever," Aiden says with a grin.

"One time I smoked the whole cigarette in a single drag," he says. "Threw up after, though."

"I'll bet." Stella glances over at Mac, who hasn't said anything. "Mac, what do you say? Impressed?"

Danny gathers up his courage and looks at Mac, and the bottom crashes out of his stomach at the unreadable expression on Mac's face. The little half-smile is gone, and though Mac's not frowning, he doesn't look happy, either. "Aw," Danny begins, "Mac doesn't wanna -- "

"Very impressed," Mac says, and looks Danny right in the eye for the first time all night. "You'll have to show me sometime how to do that."

Danny feels his heart try to kick its way out of his chest.

Mac stands up. "Excuse me for a minute," he says, and walks away, toward the men's room in the back of the bar.

Holy fucking hell. Danny struggles to maintain his own poker face. He misinterpreted that, he must have. It's like the time Mac made that crack about love and marriage a few weeks ago, Danny thinks. He'd read the signals wrong on that, too, had driven himself into a frenzy over nothing. Not doing that again, he tells himself. Not gonna let an idle comment send him into hyperventilation.

Fortunately, no one else seems to have noticed the remark, or the flush that Danny can feel in his cheeks. Stella and Flack are arguing about the cherry thing again, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Aiden, though, leans over and tucks her arm through Danny's, and whispers, "I think that was an invitation."

"Shut up, Aiden," he mutters, "you're drunk."

"Yeah, and you're blushing." She squeezes his elbow.


"So go see a man about a horse." She lets go of him and takes another gulp of her drink.

Danny stares at her, wondering if she's kidding. She raises an eyebrow at him. "I'll make a big fuss," she warns.

"Fine." He slams his glass down. "Whatever."

Easier to go, he thinks, walking to the back. Easier to do anything to get her to shut up, to head off her drunken fixation at the pass. He'll go back and wash his hands, and by the time he gets back, she'll have forgotten about the whole thing.

"Danny." Mac is standing at the sink when he slams open the door to the men's room.

"Hey, Mac."

Wash his hands, right. As he soaps up, he expects Mac to leave, but instead he leans against the sink. "Quite a trick," he says.

"Yeah. Um. Sorry 'bout that. I know it's not real professional, and honest to God, Mac, I don't even smoke any more. I gave it up ages ago. That's just some stupid trick I used to be able to do in college, and, okay, I guess it did make me kinda popular, but it's kinda tacky, too. Y'know? I don't even know why I brought it up, except that I been around Aiden before when she's drunk, and I can tell when she's not about to just let it go and let me off the hook. But it's still not cool cop behavior, so I'm real real real real sorry if that offended you, and I promise I won't do it again. I -- "

"Danny." Mac holds up one hand, and Danny stops talking. "It's okay," Mac says. "No offense taken."

Danny swallows. "Really?"

"Really." Mac takes a step closer. "It's a good trick."

Jesus. Danny's hands are wet and soapy. He can smell the faint industrial tang coming off the pink soap. Mac doesn't smell industrial; Mac smells like aftershave and coffee and expensive soap. "I've got a hundred of those stupid match tricks," Mac says. "Never saw anyone pull off that cigarette bit, though."

"Oh, well. You know." Danny keeps scrubbing his hands. "You just gotta know how to hold your breath." He dares a glance up, only to find Mac looking right into his eyes. Same damned unreadable expression, only...amusement somewhere down there in the gray depths? Is that it?

"Well, maybe you can show me sometime," Mac says. Light emphasis on the word can. Danny waits for the punchline -- this is Mac's rare and rather obscure sense of humor rearing its head, it's got to be -- but Mac doesn't blink.

"Sure," Danny says at last, and hates himself for the way his voice cracks. "I could do that."

Mac smiles. "Good boy." He nods toward the door. "I should get back now."

"Yeah, I...I'll be there in a minute."

Mac nods, and is gone.

Holy shit, Danny thinks again. Holy holy holy shit. He realizes that he's soaped his hands into a blurry froth of pink foam, and rinses it away, wincing at the heat of the water. He dries off, reminding himself to breathe, and then takes a look at himself in the mirror.

Hair going in three directions at once. Collar soft and rumpled from the long day. Wide, surprised eyes -- and a sudden, cocky grin that he can't hold back. He makes one brief, futile stab at taming his hair, then tosses away his paper towel and turns to go back to the table.

Stupid bar tricks. Who knew?