Monday, April 27, 2009

Telling From The Tells

My dad used to say you can learn a lot about someone by knowing their poker tells, but I never really bought into that. I mean, you can learn how to take their money, sure, but other than that I have no idea what you’d learn. I’m guessing Dad mostly used that line as a way of explaining why he spent so much time at the poker table – he was just “learning” about people. It wasn’t, however, a line that Mom bought much either.

Our regular poker game the other night got me thinking about that little theory of his. Castle had us all over to his loft – which, by the way, makes me wanna get into the bestseller business – and as a result, we got to do our game in nicer digs than the usual locale of Esposito’s bachelor pad. Plus, there was the added bonus of seeing Castle’s live-in mother, Martha, embarrass the hell out of him. Was almost enough to make me feel okay about having Captain Montgomery bluff me into folding three queens with his pair of fours.

Was ruminating on Dad’s theory because, even though I’ve picked up a tell or two of my poker buddys’, I couldn’t say a thing about what it ‘revealed’ about ‘em. The tells, however, are amusing enough in and of themselves.

Castle’s tells become obvious pretty early on in our game, since Martha had a nice habit of letting us exactly what they were. Clearly, the man has a nasty tendency to blink when he’s got a bad hand and to tap when he’s got a good one. Funny thing is, even though Martha was spilling the details to us, Castle got so worked up shushing her that he couldn’t focus on stopping from doing them.

‘Course Martha’s not one to brag either, her tell's an easy one to figure out – it’s whether or not she’s in the hand at all. She folds early on anything that isn’t good. So if she’s staying in, she’s got the goods and there isn’t any bluffing her out of the game. She’s in ‘till the bitter end, no matter how high you raise her.

If you’re playing with Captain Montgomery, you just gotta keep a look at the expression on his face. The man loves to pull one over on any of us – it’s his way of reminding us who’s in charge. So if he’s got a smile on his face, you know he’s bluffing. The Captain just can’t restrain his pleasure at knowing that he’s about to smooth talk you into throwing down your perfectly good hand. Of course, he’s sometime slick enough to wait until after you’ve folded to pull it out. Last game, I didn’t even need to see his cards. When he got that grin on his face after I folded, I knew I'd been conned.

What about my boy Esposito? Well, he never met a terrible hand he didn’t like. Or, to put it more precisely, he never met a terrible hand he wasn’t convinced that he could remake into a terrific hand by waiting for the flop, the turn, and the river. He’ll be holding a 2 and a 4, off-suit, and be convinced that he’s somehow gonna spin that trash into gold. All you need to watch for is that intense look he gets in his eyes as he stares at the cards – it’s him imagining the magical series of events that will occur to turn his useless pair of cards into a game-winning hand. And once you see that look, you can be assured that you’ll be making a nice chunk of change betting against him.

Which brings us to Beckett. Now, to be honest, I didn’t figure out her tells until recently. Every other time I think I’ve got them figured out, she takes a whole stack of my money and proves me wrong. It’s been a damn expensive learning process, I gotta say. Just last week, I was convinced that she was bluffing whenever she would glance down and tug on that oversized wristwatch of hers. So I put my money where my theory was… and came away fifty bucks poorer.

But by the end of the game, I think I’d figured out her “real” tell. See, she has this habit of glancing down twice at her cards whenever she had a real set of cards… and glancing down just the once when she had a hand that she was bluffing on. So next week, I’ll be smiling over a mountain of chips if my hunch proves right. Of course that’s what I said last week…. And the week before… And the week before that one too. Huh.

On second thought, I’m starting to think Beckett may have figured out my tell. It’s whenever I’m convinced I’ve figured out her tell. Hmm… Maybe this week I’ll keep that Beckett theory of mine on the theoretical level. And just fold whenever she stays in. But man, where’s the fun in that?

Y’know, maybe Dad was onto something…

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Sister Effect

It’s not something I’m gonna talk about down at the sports bar, but more and more I’ve realized that growing up with two older sisters was incredibly useful. I mean, it’s certainly helped me understand women and that comes in handy every single day. Being able to read subtle mood differences… Understanding that asking a question don’t necessarily mean you want an answer… Knowing that salmon is a different color than pink. All that stuff. It’s helpful in dating, it’s helpful in getting that old lady at the shoe store to give me 10 percent off, it’s even helpful when I'm working.

It’s an approach vector thing. Most of the guys I work with come into a situation at Mach Ten, and it gets them nowhere. They’ll be talking to a female witness or informant, but doing it all wrong. They'll push and they'll threaten, but all they’re doing is digging a deeper hole. Me, I try and look at it from her point of view. I make these women feel at ease and safe, then explain to them why this information is so important. It’s not really that complicated a method, but it works. See Karen and Stacy – your little bro was paying attention!

And it’s not just useful out in the field, but also in the precinct. A lot of cops, when they work with a strong, intelligent woman like Beckett it goes one of two ways. Either they resent the hell out of her or they fall in love with her. Neither approach tends to end well.

But for me, Beckett’s just another sister. Someone for me to give crap to, get dating advice from, and figure out how best to catch the bad guys. And if any dude tries to mess with her, I bring out the baseball bat. Y’know, your usual sister/brother relationship.

Ninety-nine percent of the time it works out perfectly. Like with my real sisters, I don’t ever ask Beckett about her dating life or how she spent her weekend. And unlike my real sisters, she never feels the need to tell me about any of that.

But… there are times where I somehow, some way, end up seeing Beckett in a different light. And it’s awkward. ‘Cause the fact is she’s not my sister. And she is, how do I put this, a very attractive woman. I mean, y’know – so I’ve heard.

Take this week. We’re out doing our job, scouting for the bad guys at a fancypants gala, and Beckett shows up in this… dress. Which, uh, didn’t leave much to the imagination. And Beckett, she’s not someone I tend to use my imagination on. As in, I don’t think about her like that. Naked, I mean. I don’t ever think about her naked.

You know what I’m trying to say here.

Anyhow, next day, we’re at the office, and she comes in as I’m trying to scrub that image out of my head. For a moment, it just feels... weird. Then, like any other day, she starts giving me a hard time, bashing the salmon (not pink) tie I've got on. And, just like that, we’re back to the usual. Just a couple of siblings out to save this city.

I tell ya, I must be working at the right place if Beckett can make my morning by telling me my tie must have been on sale at the dollar store.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fashion for the Single NYPD Detective

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it’s that everybody’s got their own way of doing things… and they’re gonna keep doing it that way, no matter what you’ve got to say. You just can’t tell anybody, especially not your friends, how to do anything. Nobody really wants to hear anybody else’s advice, whether it’s how to play foozball or which Rolling Stones album is the best (“Sticky Fingers,” btw). So when it comes to our different approaches on women, I gotta let Esposito do what he does. Trying to give him advice on that subject is like trying to stick the pin back in a grenade – I’m gonna look silly doing it and I’m gonna get blown up in the process.

Our man Epsosito likes to swagger in with a full head of steam to the girls who take his liking. He’s not afraid to show off the badge or tell a few war stories, even within the first five minutes. I like to say he comes from the S.W.A.T. school of dating – break down the door with excessive force and get ‘em before they even know what’s happening.

Me, I aim for the Homicide school of dating – no, not courting dead bodies. I’m talking about taking a slow and steady approach and spending time on the necessary research. Which is why my coffee table contains a Vogue here, a Vanity Fair there. ‘Cause, let me tell you, a little knowledge of the fashion world goes a long way in conversation with the New York girls.

So, yeah, I’m probably the only guy in the NYPD who can tell you the stylistic contrasts between Chanel and Fendi. Or why Kate Spade is different from Kate Moss. Or explain how they can sell those Gucci handbag knockoffs on Canal Street (‘cause they use “CC” for the initials instead of “GG” -- it's a homage, dude).

What can I say? It’s really fascinating stuff once you start looking into it…

But, yeah, I still get that “you-are-one-strange-dude” look from Esposito whenever I accidentally bring fashion stuff up in conversation – it’s not the sort of thing he’s ever gonna get. I could tell him that’s why I end up talking with the hottest girl in the bar all night while he’s stuck polishing his badge once the girls get tired of hearing his boring old war stories. It just doesn’t compute – I might as well be speaking Mandarin for all Esposito’s gonna hear about it.

That said, he didn’t complain too much when I used my fashion knowhow to bluff us into those Fashion Week parties this year. To him, all those out-of-town models were perfect – a group of pretty girls who hadn’t heard his war stories yet. So, yeah, even Esposito gets to benefit from it sometimes. ‘Course, I spend the whole party talking with an English designer about whether the pleated skirt would ever stage a comeback. Guess all those fashion magazines ended up getting under my skin more than I thought.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In The Land of Lost Things

So, the majority of the time doing my job means solving a Whodunit. When you show up to a crime scene, it’s typically pretty clear how the vic died. The big mystery is Who Did It – followed closely by Why and Where Can We Find Them Right Now?

But every once in a while we get a Howdunit or, more accurately, a What-The-Hell-Happenedit. In these cases the first priority isn’t tracking down who did the deed, but figuring out what actually occurred.

These are missing persons cases where the person doesn’t turn up dead, didn’t run away, didn’t pretend to be dead to avoid alimony – just straight up disappeared. I mean, most of the time, the vic turns up alive and gambling their savings away in Vegas. But every so often, you get a mindbender. A case where no warning was given, no note was left, no reasoning makes sense. And they’re the strangest calls I’ve worked.

I’m talking about cases straight out of a philosophy class. We show up and find the apartment deadbolted from the inside, windows closed and locked, the shower still running, and toast still in the toaster. If someone disappears and nobody can figure out how it happened, did it really happen at all?

It’s pretty hard for civilians to grasp, but this sort of thing occurs more often than you’d think. A case where there just isn’t any explanation. Just today, Esposito and I gave Castle the details on Dana Sullivan, a missing persons file we worked a year or so back.

Dana and her boyfriend leave a club in Soho around midnight on a Thursday. He’s a couple steps behind her ‘cause he’s talking on his cell, so when she turns the corner he’s just a few seconds before him. But when he comes around the corner, she’s gone. Street’s empty – no cars pulling off, no footsteps running away. Nothing.

Castle pinged on the boyfriend – clearly the likely suspect. But, like I told Castle, we brought the guy in, went over his story for hours. Examined every inch of their apartment, spoke to their friends, family, co-workers. Every angle we could think of. Then we pulled footage from a couple bank cameras that were located across the street where she disappeared.

First camera has her rounding the corner, then him doing the same. He comes into view of the second camera, but she never does. In the space of a few feet, she up and vanishes. That’s all there was to see.

In the end, everything corroborated the boyfriend’s story. Dana Sullivan just up and disappeared. We never figured that case out, never found an explanation where it all made sense. And if you go through our missing persons files, you’ll find hundreds of cases like that one.

I don’t know, maybe these people vanish to the same place where all those lost pens, remote controls, and socks go. That floating vortex of things that were here just a moment ago and aren’t anymore. Disappeared, vanished, never to be found again.

It’s enough to have you start believing in alien abductions, metaphysical wormholes, and little green men. One moment you’re hanging out at Quiznos, the next you’re in an intergalactic stadium waging combat against six-armed gladiators.