A Perfect Day (aka The Choice)
A Perfect Day.JPG

Season : 3
Episode: 9
Directed by: Roxann Dawson
Written by: Veena Sud
Production Number:
Airdate: 27 November 2005
Date of Crime: September 1965
Previous: Honor
Next: Frank's Best

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The remains of a four year old little girl are found on the bottom of the river, having been there since 1965. Trying to find out who she was, the detectives learn she came from an abusive home and that someone was trying to save her. Meanwhile, an impressed Stillman offers Kat Miller a spot in Homicide.


August 28, 1965. The song 'My Girl' is playing in the background. It’s a beautiful, sunny day at the beach. Several people are playing and relaxing along the sand. A young woman, Cindy, and her 4-year-old daughter Vivian are happily running through the waves. Vivian has a cast on her right arm but that doesn't slow her down as she runs back to the beach. ”Whoa!” a young man laughs, picking her up. ”Here she comes!” Vivian then runs back to her mother. Cindy says it’s a perfect day, but now it’s time to go back. Vivian doesn’t want to go back, however, asking why they can’t stay there forever. Cindy tells her to close her eyes and picture the ocean in her mind. Fighting back tears, Cindy tells her she’ll always have their perfect day in her mind. The happy image fades to Vivian’s body laying along some rocks at the edge of the river...

Present Day Lily, Scotty, and Stillman arrive at the edge of the river where a local fisherman pulled up a hand from the river bottom. Divers have recovered the rest of the remains and Frannie determines them to be the remains of a 3 to 5 year old caucasian girl who must have been under for decades. She also points out two fractures on the forearm. These were old wounds healed over. Stillman says it takes some kind of rage to break a kid’s arm in two places and is eager to find the person responsible. Scotty soundly agrees. Lily, solemnly looking at the bones, adds ”Kind of job you hate the most to catch, but worth the most to close.”

Stillman catches Kat Miller outside the precinct after yet another failed attempt to quit smoking. He thanks her for her help on their last case and asks if she’s interested in joining their squad. She’s interested but has some reservations because of an incident in Fishtown. Stillman knows about this: when a cop gets shot, word gets out. However Kat says she’s made her peace with it and says she’ll get back to him on his offer; she needs to clear her schedule first. Meanwhile, the lab has deduced that the victim has been underwater for about forty years, putting her murder in the 1960’s. Jeffries, however, points out that there’s no missing persons report in the 60’s matching her description. Lily wonders what kind of family doesn’t report their kid missing. ”The kind of family that kills their kid.” Scotty suggests. They can however, recreate an image of the victim’s face from the skull, put it out and hopefully find someone who recognizes her.

In the meantime, Vera has found one lead: the forearm fractures were a fairly unique injury and a girl matching the victim’s description and injury was treated at the St. Boniface ER in 1965. The patient’s name was Vivian Smith and the doctor who treated her, Dr. Greggs, is still working there. Dr. Greggs remembers the girl, telling Vera and Jeffries he was in his first year of residency back then and realized then for the first time how little he could do for a child in her situation, just patch them up and send them home until the next time. When Vera asks who could have killed her, Dr. Greggs blames her mother, who kept insisting she’d dropped her daughter. Flashback While a nurse inspects Vivian’s cast in another room, Cindy is nervously explaining to Dr. Greggs how she dropped Vivian, suggesting maybe she needs glasses. Greggs isn’t fooled for a second, telling Cindy her daughter has a sprial fracture, which happens when you take a child’s arm and snap it. He proceeds to twist her own arm to show how it must have happened. Cindy, frightened at this display, begs Greggs to take her away. Greggs is sympathetic but he can’t simply take her child away. He gives her a form to sign and tells her to get her eyes checked.

Flashback to Present Dr. Greggs remarks that there wasn’t anything he could do. Child abuse wasn’t even a concept back then. In addition, he tells the detectives the mother used a fake name, since the hospital bill came back soon after: no known address, no known recipient. He does recall that she was wearing a carhop waitress’ uniform, however. Vera points out that the only carhop in Philly is Milton’s burger joint on Thurmon St. ”Best cheese fries in town”, Jeffries remarks. The carhop is now a somewhat rundown diner. The owner, Mattie, a woman with a raspy voice from a lifetime of smoking, was a waitress there in 1965. She doesn’t remember the woman at first until Lily and Scotty tell her about a young daughter with a cast on her arm. Mattie recalls her name was Cindy, though she didn’t remember her last name. Unfortunately, the carhop’s owner back then won’t be much help there: he died ten years ago. She can tell them that Cindy was a nervous type: she had a great husband and great kid but wanted nothing to do with either. Lily is surprised to learn Cindy was married. Mattie says she met her husband one time, whom looked like a ”heart of gold type”, though something was definitely up with Cindy.

Flashback In the crowded and noisy carhop, Mattie takes a puff of her cigarette and carries a tray of food outside. Hearing a crash, she heads over to Cindy, who’s picking up a tray of food she dropped. ”You get used to it, honey” Mattie assures her, helping her pick up the food. Cindy asks her how much money it takes to run away. Mattie asks what she means. Doesn’t she have a family? Cindy says she’s a bad mother, adding sometimes she thinks her only way out is when one of them dies. A moment later, her husband Roger arrives. In the car, Vivian shows off the white kitten her father got her. ”I got a white paw just like Snowflake!”, she says as the cat paws at her cast. Roger assures her that Vivian will be fine. Cindy asks how he can say that. Roger says they can get through this as a family, telling her Vivian needs her, and so does he. Flashback to Present Lily notes that it sounds like Cindy was ready to bolt and her husband was desperate to keep her at any cost. Scotty interrupts and tells them they’ve got someone who recognizes the image they sent out.

Back at the squad a court reporter named Maura Stanton says she was just leaving the courthouse when she saw the image. She pulls out a photo of a little girl that looks almost identical to the posted image. She says it’s one of the few things left from her childhood. ”That little girl in the photo,” she says, ”that girl is me.” Maura explains that she was adopted when she was four and remembers little from before that. She remembers having a twin but thought she was an imaginary friend. The only memory of her parents was the last night she saw her mother, the night she left her at a church. Flashback Cindy carries young Maura into the church and sets her down on a pew. Maura asks where Vivian is and Cindy tearfully tells her that Vivian is just someone she made up in her mind. ”Don’t you see? It’s so much better this way.” She tells Maura she’s better off without her, then gives Maura a medallion, telling her she’s better off without her and that ”he’ll keep you safe.” She then leaves, tearfully saying goodbye to her daughter.

Flashback to Present Maura says she never saw her mother again. Soon after, DHS found her a good home with a loving family. Lily asks her about the medallion and the man her mother said would keep her safe. Maura shows her the medallion, with ”B.N. 3546” engraved on the back. Since the medallion is of St. Michael, the patron saint of cops, Lily suggests it could be a badge number and promises keep her informed. Maura tells Lily she’s had a good life but she’d still like to know why her mother left. Later, at a nearby tavern, Scotty and Vera have located the medallion’s possible former owner, Art Balducci. Art immediately recognizes the two as cops, and admits that 3546 was his badge number though he hung up his own uniform twenty years ago. ”Good riddance” he says, while throwing back drinks. He’s jolted out of his depressed demeanor, however, when they show him the medallion and the picture of Maura. They ask him if he was close to the family though he says he only met them once. When asked why he gave them his medallion, he explains back in 1965 he was a rookie cop assigned to respond when their neighbors complained about the noise.

Flashback Young Art and his partner knock on the front door but no one answers. As the crashing noise continues, they head around to the back door where Roger answers. While Art’s partner explains about the noise complaint, Art inspects the scene. Vivian and Maura are sitting quietly at the dinner table with a few dishes thrown around while Cindy nervously stands at the sink, doing dishes, her back to the others. Art asks if everything’s all right. When she turns to tell him everything is fine, he sees a massive bruise on her face. ”What’d you do to her?” he angrily asks Roger. Art’s partner tells him to shut up and tries to leave, while Cindy explains that she just fell, sticking to her story about needing glasses. When Art doesn’t budge, the partner takes Roger for a walk around the block to calm him down. Maura tells Art that ”Daddy’s gonna come back and make Mommy cry again.” Art shows her his medallion, telling her St. Michael is ”the patron saint of mommies” and that he looks after them and never lets them come to harm. He then gives it to Maura to put on her mother. After the girls leave to get ready for their bath, Cindy tries to give the medallion back, though Art tells her to keep it since the girls will notice if it’s gone. She thanks him and introduces herself as Cindy Mulvaney. Art tells her though that situations like hers never end well and she needs to take her girls and leave that night. Cindy, however, tell him she has nowhere to go: her parents are dead, she’s an only child and hasn’t had a friend in years. Art quickly pulls out a pen and paper and writes down a number to call if she needs a place to stay.

Flashback to PresentScotty and Vera surprised to learn it was Roger, not Cindy who was abusing the girls. Scotty asks if the number he gave was for a shelter. Art, however explains there were no shelters back then, just a few good Samaritans who’d escaped from situations like Cindy’s. He says he never heard from her again so he doesn’t know if she ever called the number. Scotty doubt she would have turned to the police again after that night. ”Police,” Art scoffs with disgust. ”Her husband was the police.” Roger Mulvaney was a cop in Art’s precinct. Lily and Scotty tell Stillman they learned that Roger Mulvaney was a decorated cop killed in the line of duty in 1965. They even have his picture up at Jones’ Tavern. Cops back then normally turned a blind eye to abuse but if an abuser was a cop, he had a free pass. They’ve also learned Cindy Mulvaney dropped off the face of the earth earlier the same year. On a positive note, they’ve learned the shelter was run by a woman named Nancy Walsh.

Nancy’s still in life, running a battered women’s shelter in Germantown. Nancy scoffs at Lily and Scotty’s description of her shelter back in 1965 as an ”underground railroad”. It was just a few cots in her living room, she says. A look at the photo of Maura jogs her memory about Cindy. Nancy explains that her first two weeks there, Cindy wouldn’t speak to anyone but her daughters. She was terrified.

Flashback While a woman named Tiffany shows the girls a home movie camera, Nancy thanks Cindy for helping with the laundry. Cindy recalls how the girls were just a few months old when Roger started getting violent. At first she would tell herself it was just a shove, he didn’t mean it, he loves her, so she stayed. Eventually she realized it was too late to leave and it was her fault. Nancy assures her that she had nowhere to go, but she managed to get out. The moment of peace is interrupted when Roger walks in, begging Cindy’s forgiveness, swearing it will never happen again. Cindy is resistant at first; she’s heard it all before. Roger tells her he’s nothing without his family. ”You’re my wife” he says ”You’re my ’happily ever after’.” He tells her his shift ends at midnight and he’ll see her at home. After he leaves, Tiffany tells Cindy she doesn’t have to go back to him. ”You have another choice, Cindy, remember?”

Flashback to Present Lily wonders what Cindy’s other choice was. Nancy tells them Tiffany was Cindy’s friend and confidant. She might know. She’s also easily accessible, being a generous donor and volunteer at the shelter. Tiffany was lucky enough to get out but Cindy apparently wasn’t: she packed her bags and went home that very night. She felt there was no use in running; her husband was a cop and had the resources to track her anywhere. Nancy says she never saw Cindy again. She tells them she usually doesn’t when a woman goes back to her husband ”unless I pay a visit to the local cemetery. Jeffries asks Tiffany what she meant by Cindy having another choice. Tiffany explains that she was referring to the man who loved her, and not her husband. She doesn’t remember his name but recalls his eyes were like Jeffries’ ”kind, sexy”. Jeffries is caught a bit off-guard by Tiffany’s flirting but doesn’t seem to mind it one bit. She says this man was Cindy's way out and Tiffany always told herself she took it. She tells him he took them to the beach one day, the Jersey shore. It let them forget where they’d come from, and that they were depending on the kindness of strangers. She even shot a home movie of it. ”It’s yours for a smile, big boy.” she says to Jeffries.

Jeffries tells Maura the DNA test confirmed Vivian was Maura’s identical twin. Maura asks about her parents and Lily admits her father was abusive to his family. They asks for her help in identifying a man in Tiffany’s home movie. He might know what happened to Vivian. As they play the movie, and Maura sees her mother and sister’s faces for the first time in decades, memories come flooding back to her. Her mother was so happy and sad at the same time, Maura recalls. Cindy called it their ”perfect day” and if they close their eyes, it would last forever.

Flashback Vivian and Maura run up to Cindy and ask her to play a song on the piano. The young man sitting next to her is surprised to learn she played the piano. The girls explain she used to play all the time since she was a little girl but stopped because of their father. The young man puts his arms around her and with his palms up, asks if she’ll play a song for him. As she ”plays” on his fingers he says it’s beautiful and jokes that they should take it on the road with their ”dancing chimpanzees”. As his face comes into view, the young man is revealed to be Art Balducci. They all laugh when Maura innocently asks Art if he’s going to kiss her mother.

Flashback to Present Maura remembers it was Art who was in love with her mother, and she was in love with him. Art is stubborn at first when Vera and Jeffries question him, though he adamantly refutes the idea Cindy would ever hurt her own daughter. He says Roger didn’t deserve Cindy or the girls. Vera and Jeffries are curious how Art came to want to start a new life with someone he’d known for two weeks. Art explains that he’d stopped by the shelter once to check up on her. He’d expected it to just be the one time, but soon found himself going everyday. Then, a few weeks later, Roger came to get them back. Art couldn’t let that happen. ”I did my best to save her,” he says sadly, ”but my best wasn’t enough.”

Flashback While the girls watch a Road Runner cartoon at Art’s place, Cindy tells Art that Roger found them and expects them home that night. Art tells them they can all run away to the shore. He’ll never find them there. Cindy tells him he’s young, his life has just started and he can’t just leave everything to take on someone else kids and wife. ”Then be my wife,” he says, ”marry me.” Cindy is taken aback at this. Art tells her he may not have much but what he has is hers and the girls’, and that he’ll love her, protect her, and never let harm come their way. Cindy tells him not to say those things if he doesn’t mean them, though he insists he does. Getting down on one knee, he asks her again to marry him. Maura, having heard the whole conversation along with Vivian, asks if this means her mom’s name is Mrs. Balducci now. Cindy answers yes to his proposal, with a genuine happiness she hasn’t felt in ages. A moment later, she remembers Roger and asks what they’ll do about him. Art tells them to stay here while he heads out, telling Cindy he’s going to make sure Roger never bothers her again. Art tells the girls to keep an eye on their mother and he and Cindy exchange one last loving look before he heads out the door. Back at the precinct, Art and two of his fellow officers catch up with Roger heading towards his car in the parking lot. They warn him to stay away from Cindy and proceed to beat him until Roger agrees. ”You’ll never hurt her again.” Art says as he walks away, leaving a bruised and bloodied Roger coughing on the ground.

Flashback to Present ”That’s how we dealt with abusers back then,” Art says without regret, ”off the books”. He tells Vera and Jeffries he thought they were free. Unfortunately when he returned home, Cindy and the girls were gone. All that was left was a note: ”We forgot Snowflake, be back soon”. They’d gone back for the cat. Art tells them he raced over to their house but it was dark and empty. He drove around for hours, he went to the shore, he walked the beach until dawn, but he never found them. That’s when he knew Roger had found them. Vera remembers that Roger was killed in the line of duty a few months later and points out Art would have known his beat. Art, neither confirming nor denying anything tells them she was Mrs. Cindy Balducci for the day. At least he had that. Jeffries repeats the name, realizing it’s their best lead yet. The two detectives head out, making sure not to write anything down that might get Art in trouble. "I don't remember what the man said anyhow" says Vera. Art, grateful and sad, tells them if they ever find Cindy to tell her she doesn’t need to be afraid of him anymore. ”Art took care of it.”At a house on the Jersey shore, an older woman is giving piano lessons to a young boy. She responds when Lily and Scotty arrive and ask for ”Cindy Balducci”. When Scotty asks if she goes by the name Mulvaney, she grows nervous and sends the boy home. She denies knowing anyone named Maura when they ask why she left, though she’s overwhelmed when they show her the photo of Maura. ”She can’t know.” Cindy pleads. ”He’ll find her!” Scotty assures her that her husband is long dead and can’t hurt anyone anymore. She tells them her husband swore he’d find her and take everything she loved, like he took Vivian. But she still had Maura left. That’s why she left her at the church. She had to make sure he’d never find her, even if it meant giving her up forever...

Flashback Cindy and the girls arrive at the house to get Snowflake. Cindy tells them to keep quiet while she gets the cat. Sneaking into the house, she jumps at a noise, and sees the cat. Picking it up she rushes outside, thinking they're safe. Instead, she’s horrified to find Roger in the car, still bloodied from his run-in with Art and his friends. He tells her to get in. As they drive, he tells them they’re a family and they’ll work this out. He demands to know if Cindy slept with Art. Cindy immediately says no. Roger, choosing to believe this, is relieved. They can start again. They can go home. ”What about Mrs. Balducci, mommy?” Vivian asks. Roger asks who that is. ”Mommy is.” Vivian answers. A terrified Cindy says she’s sorry. Roger, with cold rage, says he is too. Roger drives them to a bridge and stops the car. As he gets the girls out of the car, Cindy asks what he’s doing. He doesn’t answer. She begs him to give them back. He asks if she thought she could drive off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Picking the girls up, he dangles them over the edge of the bridge. ”There is no happily ever after!” He yells. ”Not for us, babe! Not for you! Not if I can help it!” Maura calls out to her mother and Cindy frantically pulls her away. Roger still has Vivian in his arms. Before she even has a chance to save Vivian, Roger drops her into the river. Cindy silently weeps, her arm outstretched to the void below...

Flashback to Present Tears run down Cindy’s face as she looks at her daughter’s photo while Lily and Scotty look on. Nancy and Tiffany welcome another abused family into their shelter. Vera and Jeffries file away the closed case box, with the image of Vivian in it. Stillman talks to a bartender at Jones’ Tavern and he takes down the picture of Roger. Lily and Maura find Cindy standing alone on the beach. Maura goes to her and mother and daughter embrace. A moment later, Art joins them and takes Cindy in his arms. Lily and Maura both see Vivian standing on the beach and Maura takes her hand. The two sisters are reunited. It’s a perfect day.


Main Cast

Guest Cast



  • This was the highest rated episode to date for viewers with more than 19 million viewers.
  • This was also the first episode directed by Roxann Dawson, who would later become a producer on the show.
  • Scotty mentions the case from the episode "The Boy in the Box".


  • The Temptations "My Girl"
  • Opus 1 "Come With Me"
  • The Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"
  • Marianne Faithfull "As Tears Go By"
  • Opus 1 "Where Was My Wedding Dress"
  • The Shirelles "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"
  • The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man"
  • Closing Song: Donovan "Catch The Wind"

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