The Coastal Shelf
Danny takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes for a minute or two, making little spots of multicolored light dance in front of his vision. He wishes he had eyedrops or something to get the dryness out, but this is going to have to do for now. He blinks several times in a row, hard, then puts his glasses back on and turns back to his work with a sigh. They've put another case to bed, and that's a good thing, but now comes the second-worst part of the whole process, aside from writing the reports: labeling and boxing up all the evidence and test results. He's going cross-eyed just from writing out all these fussy little stickers.
At least Mac is helping him with it; it doesn't make the job any more pleasant, but it does cut his share of the workload by half, so he can't complain. Mac's good about stuff like that, and is always willing to do his share of the scutwork, instead of just passing it off to whoever's worked the case with him -- the way Danny's heard a lot of other head CSIs do, and it really would be well within Mac's rights to do so, too.
"Here are the results from the trace we ran on the gun," Mac says as he walks into the room. He sets a stack of papers down on the table. "I think this is the last of it."
"Yeah?" Danny says. "Good. Can't wait to be done with this."
Mac nods and goes around to the other side of the table, and starts sorting the papers into different folders.
"Hey, Mac?" Danny says, after a few minutes of working in silence.
"What do you think's gonna happen to that kid?" This has been bugging Danny ever since they started to put the pieces of the case together. One sixteen-year-old boy dead and another one facing murder charges, all because of a stupid intramural basketball rivalry that had spiralled out of control. Cases involving kids almost always make Danny feel sick, but when the perp turns out to be a kid, too, he usually just doesn't know what to think. Intellectually, he gets it, but his gut is a different story.
"He'll be tried as a juvenile," Mac says. "He may get off with a comparatively light sentence."
"Yeah, but..." Danny frowns. "The key word there's 'comparatively.' The sick thing is, when we had him in the box, I got the feeling he still thought it had been worth it. Like he'd still won somehow or something."
"Well, if that's the situation, he'll figure out otherwise soon enough." Mac sounds unconcerned. "He'll have jail to deal with, and even after he gets out, he's still going to have to live with the stigma. He'll be trying to run from that the rest of his life."
"Yeah, but that ain't nothin' unusual," Danny says.
"What's not unusual?"
"I figure everyone is running away from something," Danny says. "It don't have to be anything big, like a murder charge or the Witness Protection Program. It could just be, you know, you were a nerdy little kid in the third grade, and some other kid would beat you up every day, or pants you."
"Pants you?" Mac says.
Danny tries to bite back a grin. "Never mind," he says. "Actually, I was a little nerdy kid, at least up 'till third or fourth grade, on account'a I was small for my age, only I used to mostly get in trouble for mouthing off to anyone who tried to start shit with me. Or I'd start whalin' away on 'em, even if they were twice my size. Fortunately, I could also run fast."
Mac raises an eyebrow. "An important skill to have."
"No kiddin'. Anyway, so say you were that nerdy little kid, and you decide you don't wanna be that no more, so when you grow up, you cultivate this image of someone who woulda never been some little third-grade dweeb. And you don't talk about it, even when people are sharin' stories about dumb things they did when they were kids." He props his elbows on the table. "Maybe after awhile you get so's you're not even aware any more that you're frontin' like that, 'cause it's a pretty small thing, really. But that's sorta my point. We're all running away from something, every last one of us. And maybe all that means is that you're editing out an embarrassing story here and there, or making an effort to forget the embarrassing shit. Sure, for some people it's much bigger stuff, too. But either way, it's common as dirt, I figure."
"I suppose." Mac doesn't really look at Danny, just keeps on with what he's doing. He couldn't be making his lack of interest in this conversation any more obvious, but Danny isn't much one for being easily discouraged, and so he pushes on anyway.
"And never mind running from your past," he says. "Some people just wanna run from their families, and given some of the shit we see every day, who can blame 'em? Hell, most of the time, I wouldn't mind disavowing my own family. But blood's blood, ya know? Even if you ain't close." He pauses, then adds, "How 'bout your family?"
Danny would swear that Mac flinches then, just for a second, but when he looks up, his face is set, his mouth a straight line. "How about my family, what?" he says, and the sharp tone in his voice makes Danny want to apologize, to back off.
He's wishing now that he had never started this, but he has, and he's not going to back down now. He wills himself to be calm, then says, "Well, I was just thinking that I really don't know that much about you. Your background, that is."
Mac seals an evidence bag and drops it into the box. "You know plenty about me."
"Not really," Danny says, shaking his head. "I mean, I know you were -- 'scuse me, are -- a Marine." Mac almost smiles when Danny corrects himself, one of those little halfway quirks of his mouth that are nearly impossible to spot unless you know what you're looking for. Seeing that gives Danny the last little bit of courage he needs to press on. "And I know that you're from Chicago. That's about it. I don't even know what part of the city you're from. Hey, that would be a good place to start," he says, as if the idea has just occurred to him, as if he hasn't spent hours upon hours speculating to himself about Mac's life prior to the NYPD. "Where 'bout in Chicago did you used to live?"
"Have you ever been there?" Mac asks.
"Naw. Would like to someday, though. It looks like a decent city."
"Then the name of the neighborhood wouldn't mean anything to you, anyway."
"Try me," Danny says.
There's a long pause, then Mac says, "The Near North Side. The neighborhood's called the Gold Coast, to be specific." His voice is a lot lower than it usually is.
"Yeah?" Danny nods, thinking. "Is that a nice neighborhood? It sounds nice. I mean, Gold Coast, wow. We ain't got nothing called that here, that's for sure."
"It's all right. There are some nice views of the lake." To Danny's surprise, Mac puts down the folders he's holding, then pulls a chair up to the table and sits down. "I wouldn't say I'd want to live there again, though."
"Well, no. I guess not. I sure as hell wouldn't want to go back to the neighborhood I grew up in, either." Danny watches Mac for a minute. He's gone back to organizing the folders now, but he's still sitting down, which Danny takes, somehow, as a good sign. Or at least a sign that Mac is semi-willing to keep talking. That being the case, Danny says, "Okay, that's a good start. How 'bout school? Like, PS whatever, or somethin' else?"
"Danny, why do you want to know? Is it -- "
"Hey." Danny holds up his hands. "Just makin' conversation here. Like I said, I just wanna know. No ulterior motives."
Mac sighs. "I went to Francis Xavier Wards. It's a private Catholic school. For high school, I was switched to the Latin School. It's not Catholic, but it's...I suppose my parents thought it would be good preparation for college."
"Uh huh." Danny nods. "So they musta been surprised when you joined the Marines instead."
"'Surprised' is one way of putting it," Mac says. "And I did go to college eventually. Just...not on their timetable, that's all."
"So, now, wait," Danny says. "You went to some joint called the Latin School, and some other place with a long name -- "
"Francis Xavier Wards."
Danny waves a hand at him. "Yeah, that. And you said your old neigborhood's called the Gold Coast."
"Danny, your memory is impressive, but I don't see -- "
The pieces fall into place in Danny's head, the thing he's almost been able to see for the past few minutes of their conversation. "Your folks got money, don't they?" he blurts out before he has a chance to think better of it.
Mac shuts down immediately; that's the only way Danny can think of to describe it. His eyes go blank and his jaw tenses, and Danny would bet anything he's clenching his teeth. And that right there tells him he's hit a home run, or at least hit a nerve. "What makes you say that?" Mac asks, and his voice is black ice.
Danny shrugs. "C'mon, Mac. I don't gotta be Sherlock Holmes to know that's at least a valid guess. I mean, the private schools with the highfalutin' names, the college prep junk, the fancy-sounding neighborhood...no one names a ghetto the Gold Coast, am I right?"
Mac makes a stack out of his folders, all quick, sharp motions. He won't look up at Danny.
"I mean, don't get me wrong," Danny adds swiftly. "It don't make a difference to me one way or the other. You could tell me you grew up datin' the Rockefeller daughters, or whoever's big with the Chicago glitterati, or you could say you were raised in the middle of Cabrini Green. Don't matter nothin' to me. I mean, it matters, but just 'cause I'm interested, you know?"
"How do you know about Cabrini Green?" Mac asks. This is one of his more annoying evasive techniques as far as Danny's concerned, picking the least important part of a statement to comment on, but right now, it's good to hear. He's not putting an end to the conversation, that's the main thing.
Danny shrugs. "Read about it," he says. "Saw it in a movie once, too, I think."
"Not one of the city of Chicago's more altruistic moments, I'm afraid."
"Yeah, well, we've had our share of those here, too. What city hasn't?"
"I suppose." Mac shuffles the folders around a few more times, then puts them in the box. He does look up then, biting his lip. "Yes, my parents have money," he says quietly.
"That's what I thought," Danny says, nodding.
"I don't know exactly how much," Mac says, even though Danny hasn't asked. "It hasn't been much of my concern since I left home."
"They alive?" Danny says. "You ever talk to 'em?"
"Yes, they're alive. And we don't talk very much. I..." Mac leans back in his chair. "I have difficulty finding common ground with them."
"Is that why you joined the Marines?"
"I joined the Marines to serve my country," Mac says, and Danny feels his heart sink a little; it's the same old rote answer, and for some reason it digs at him in a way that none of Mac's other evasive tactics have. Maybe it's because hearing it now, after Mac has actually kinda opened up to him a little, feels like a deliberate dismissal, like not only has no ground been gained after all, but like Mac wants him to know that.
Danny nods without saying anything, and starts to make a label for the evidence box.
"Now, if it so happens that joining the Corps also got me out of Chicago and angered my parents into the bargain," Mac says, "those were just fringe benefits."
Danny looks up in surprise. Mac's face is perfectly serious. They stare at each other for a few seconds, and then Mac smiles suddenly. A real smile this time, not one of those little secretive ones. Danny can't help grinning back. Maybe they've made some progress tonight, after all.
"Yeah?" he says. "Well, good for you. Might as well burn them bridges if there ain't no sense in going back."
"That's one way of putting it." Mac sits up straight and glances around. "Have we got all the evidence?"
"Far as I can tell," Danny says. "Here's the label." He watches Mac seal up the box, then says, "Hey, you want to go grab a beer?"
"Why not?" Mac says, surprising Danny all over again.
"Great." Danny flashes him another grin. "I'll even pay. Maybe you can drop some more info on me."
"What?" he asks, blinking.
Mac stands up. "I just...why are you so interested?"
"All part of my master plan," Danny says, casual as anything.
"To figure you out, of course," and he looks right into Mac's face as he says it.
Mac doesn't say anything in reply, but he's smiling again as he reaches over to switch off the light, and he puts a hand on Danny's shoulder as they walk out. He lets go of him once they get into the hallway, but Danny can still feel the warmth of that touch all the way downstairs in the elevator and up the street to the nearest bar, and he thinks that he'll carry the sense memory of it with him for a good long while to come.