"That's Russian," Blair said, indicating the red writing on the top and bottom of the tag.
"Yes. It's a Russian Special Forces dog tag." Jim stated, slipping the item into another evidence bag.
"You recognize it?"
Jim nodded. "I saw a few like this during my time in the military." He sensed that Blair was about to say something else but halted his partner's words by holding up a hand. His hearing picked up on the sound of approaching footsteps crunching in the dried leaves. Quickly, Jim shifted them behind an old oak tree, using the large trunk for cover. His hand went to his back, preparing to draw his weapon when the identifying scent of the sheriff suddenly filled his nostrils. "It's okay. It's Sandoval."
"Thank God," Blair whispered, his hand moving away from his shoulder holster.
When they stepped out from behind the tree, it was obvious that they had startled the officer. The man jumped back, his hand going for his weapon, only stopping when he recognized them. "Dios mío! You scared the shit out of me." He released a breath and ran a hand through his short, dark hair.
"Sorry about that, Sheriff." Blair apologized earnestly.
"Hey, no worries. I just wouldn't want to shoot you accidentally." Sandoval patted Blair once on the back. "Please, call me Miguel."
"Neither would I." Blair laughed and Miguel joined in. "And it's Blair."
Jim smiled as he watched his partner interact with the sheriff. Even though they'd only just met, Jim couldn't explain it, but there was something about Sandoval that made him like the guy immediately.
"I found tire tracks about two hundred feet back that way." Sandoval hitched a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the way he'd come. "There's an old logging road there that leads out to the main road."
"Must be how he got in and out without being seen," Blair stated.
Holding up the evidence bags for Sandoval to see, Jim said, "We found the shell casing and a military dog tag."
"Great. Good work, detectives." Sandoval praised then looked around. "This area is pretty secluded. Earlier, I questioned the nearest neighbor, who lives about half a mile up the road. The husband and wife were asleep at the time of the murder, so they didn't see or hear anything."
"More than likely the killer used a silencer," added Jim, stuffing the bags back into his pocket. "I'll get Captain Banks to send our forensics team out here to go over the entire area."
"All right." Sandoval agreed.
They talked for a few more minutes then walked through the woods in the direction of the lake. The three men clambered into the boat and headed back to their primary crime scene.
Having shown Simon and the forensics team the exact location of where he found the shell casing, dog tag and tire tracks, Jim, Blair and Sandoval now stood on the back deck discussing the information that the sheriff and his officers had gathered on Eric Bradford.
"He's married to " Sandoval looked at the notebook in his hand, "Mariam Bradford. Maiden name is Schaffer. They have no children and Mr. Bradford has no living relatives -- that we know about."
"Any idea if there's a -- girlfriend?" Jim asked.
"Or boyfriend," Blair added.
Jim sent his partner a brief glance. "Right. Or boyfriend."
"My officers didn't find anything, but," Sandoval shrugged, "anything's possible."
"Okay. Sandburg and I will head back to Cascade to interview the wife. Can you do a background check on Bradford's work associates?"
"Will do," the sheriff agreed with a smile, handing Jim a piece of paper with the wife's address.
"Great. Thanks." Jim touched Sandoval on the shoulder as he walked by him, his partner just a step behind. "We'll be in touch."
Blair had been extremely silent on the drive back down the mountain. Jim wasn't worried, though, because there were times, like now, when his partner would become quiet while he thought through a case. It was one of the many things that made him a good cop; the ability to twist the case around in his head and look at it from all angles. And with Blair's special 'gift', he could go deeper into a case and see things that Jim would never have known. When both their abilities were put to work, they made one hell of an unbeatable team.
They drove for a few more miles then Jim finally had to ask, "What's on your mind, Chief?"
Blair studied him for a minute before answering. "You don't think " he paused.
"What?" Jim prodded.
"Well, we know this is a professional hit."
"Right." Jim eyed him briefly before shifting his gaze to the road again.
"I know what the name at the top of the dog tag said, Jim. And so do you."
"Since when do you know Russian?"
"Since always, and don't change the subject." Blair looked at him, his face serious. "It said Spetsnaz. That's the same Russian military group that Yuri belonged to. It's possible that the hit-man could be him."
"The man was shot and died from the fall, Chief," Jim quickly stated. "There's no way he just got up and walked away."
"Yeah, but his body was never found."
Jim thought a moment. No. It was impossible. There was no way it could be Yuri. He had watched the man get shot in the back and then fall to his death. "No." Jim shook his head. "It can't be him."
"But it is possible," Blair persisted.
"No." Jim denied again with a shake of his head.
"Come on, Jim-"
"Let's just drop it and concentrate on finding Bradford's killer. Okay, Chief?"
"Fine." Blair agreed all too quickly, crossing his arms over his chest and looking out the side window.
Jim frowned slightly. He had a feeling that he hadn't heard the last of Blair's wild idea. When his guide got hooked on something, he was like a dog to a bone and just wouldn't give it up.
It was late afternoon by the time Jim and Blair stepped up to the front door of the Bradford's large mansion. Raising a hand, Jim rang the doorbell and a few seconds later a woman in a maid's uniform opened the door.
"Yes?" she asked. "May I help you?"
"Cascade Police, ma'am," Jim said as both he and Blair drew their badges, holding them up for the woman to see. "We're here to talk with Mrs. Bradford."
Pulling the door fully open, the maid motioned them inside. "This way, please." They followed her through the large foyer and into an expensively decorated sitting room. "Please, have a seat and I'll let Mrs. Bradford know that you're here."
They both remained standing and as they waited for Eric Bradford's wife, Jim watched his partner slowly move around the room, glancing at various framed photographs, expensive pieces of artwork and sculptures.
The sound of high heeled shoes clicking on marble flooring alerted them that someone was approaching. Jim turned toward the doorway just as a tall, attractive brunette in her late thirties entered the room. Her movements were graceful, her hair swept up into a stylish twist and she was dressed in a dark blue business suit.
"I'm Mariam Bradford." She sniffled and dabbed a tissue at her eyes. "What may I do for you, gentlemen?"
"I'm Detective Ellison." Jim flashed his badge, sensing Blair move up beside him. "And this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're here about your husband."
"If you're here to tell me he's dead, I already know." Her voice trembled.
Blair walked up to her and placed a hand on her arm. "We're sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," Mariam said and gave a shaky little smile while dabbing at her eyes again. "Please. Have a seat."
Once they were sitting, Jim and Blair beside each other on the sofa and Mariam across from them in a Queen Anne style chair, Blair leaned forward and said, "I know this must be difficult for you, but we need you to answer some questions."
"Okay." Mariam's bottom lip trembled and she drew in a shuddering breath before blowing it out slowly.
Jim leaned back into the cushions and let Blair take the lead in the questioning. His partner had a talent when it came to dealing with an upset loved one who needed to be questioned. The way he spoke and interacted with them always seemed to have a calming effect on them, which in turn made them give up information they might not have revealed otherwise. Jim was sure that part of it was due to Blair's voice. It always softened and became deeper, almost like his 'guide voice', but not exactly the same. It was easy, though, for Jim to detect the differences and Blair never used his 'guiding voice' on anyone but him. When he had once questioned his guide about it, Blair had said that particular way he spoke was for Jim and only Jim.
Turning his attention to Blair, Jim listened as he began to ask the first question. He immediately dialed up his senses, tuning them onto Mrs. Bradford in order to detect any deception she may give in her responses.
"Can you tell us why you weren't with your husband in Sun Valley?"
"We had a fight last evening." Mariam's voice hitched and she buried her face in her hands and began to weep quietly.
Blair waited until she had regained some composure then gently asked, "What did you argue about?"
"He's always working late and on weekends. I hardly ever get to see him anymore. This weekend I wanted him to stay at home. Saturday is... was," she begun to cry again, "his b-birthday." Taking in a watery breath, she continued, "I wanted us to spend it together but he said he couldn't. That he had to work."
"Okay." Blair nodded slowly and gave a reassuring smile. "You argued, then what happened?"
Mariam lowered her head and replied quietly, "He left."
"Did he come back home at all during the night?"
"No." She shook her head and blew her nose.
"Weren't you worried?"
"No. Not really. In the past, when we had an argument and he'd leave, he usually stayed away until the next day. Sometimes he'd be gone longer."
"What did you do after your husband left?"
"I went upstairs to my bedroom."
"Did anyone see you?"
"No, but I did call my sister."
"We'll need her name." After jotting down the information, Blair sent a quick glance Jim's way and Jim knew what his partner's next question was going to be. "Do you think your husband was having an affair?"
Diverting her gaze from Blair's, Mariam wrung her hands together and shook her head. "No, I don't think he was. I loved my husband " Taking a deep breath, she continued, "But if he was having an affair well I guess I'd be the last to know, wouldn't I?"
Blair didn't answer her, instead he asked, "Do you know of anyone who would want your husband dead?"
Tears leaked out from the corner of her eyes to trickle slowly down her cheeks. "No, I don't."
"Did he receive any threatening phone calls or letters recently?"
Mariam looked at Blair with tear-filled eyes and shook her head.
"I read that your husband was in the process of buying out another company. Was he having any difficulties at work? Maybe someone giving him trouble or a hard time?
"Some people had to be fired," she gave a little shrug, "so I guess they'd be upset and blame him."
"Can you think of anybody in particular?"
"No. He hardly ever discussed his work at home..." she paused and a slight bitterness tinged her words when she added, "when he was at home."
Blair seemed to study her for a second before he smiled softly and said, "Okay." When he stood, Jim followed suit. "That's all for now, Mrs. Bradford. Thank you."
Standing as well, Mariam led them to the front door. "I'm sorry. I guess I haven't been very helpful."
"You did just fine," Blair assured. "We'll be in touch."
"You did great in there, Chief," Jim said once they were inside the truck.
"Thanks, man." Blair smiled. "I don't think she had anything to do with her husband's death. Did you pick up on anything?"
Steering the truck out of the driveway and onto the tree-lined street, Jim answered, "She was honestly upset and was truthful in her responses."
Turning slightly in his seat, Blair eyed Jim. "But "
"But " Jim briefly glanced at his partner, "I didn't buy the part about her not knowing that he was cheating on her. Her heart rate spiked when you asked about it."
"I got the same feeling." Blair nodded, practically bouncing in his seat. "I think she knew but chose to ignore it."
"Out of sight, out of mind?"
"Yeah, something like that. However, I don't think she knows who he was seeing."
"I'm with you on that one, too." Jim flashed Blair a grin and it was returned.
"Let's head back to the station, see if the phone call to the sister pans out and give Miguel a call. Maybe he's got some information for us."
"Sounds like a plan, Chief."
When they arrived back at Major Crime, Simon immediately called them into his office. Upon entering the room, Jim and Blair were greeted by Sheriff Miguel Sandoval. The sheriff, who had been seated across from Simon's desk, stood immediately and the three of them shook hands.
"No red flags showed up on Bradford's employees. However, I did speak to the housekeeper again," Miguel said, "and she revealed something to me that she neglected to tell me when I first questioned her."
"What was that?" Jim asked, curious.
"Bradford was having an affair."
"We figured he was." Blair sat down on top of the conference table, his legs freely swinging back and forth. "We just got back from interviewing Mrs. Bradford. When we asked her about an affair, she denied it, but Jim and I believe she knew her husband was cheating."
Moving next to his partner, Jim leaned a hip on the table top. "Did the housekeeper give a name?"
"Yes. Said his name is Jonathan Kendrick."
"Wait." Blair quickly hopped from the table and began to pace excitedly. "I know that name. He's the guy who owns the other company -- CompuCom. Right?"
"You got it, mi amigo." Sandoval grinned. "My men looked him up. He's got an address both here and in New York City. At the moment he's in Cascade. Has been for the last week."
"Good." Jim gave a brief nod. "Sandburg and I will go pay him a visit."
A knock suddenly sounded at the door and Rhonda entered. "Sorry for interrupting. This just came for you, Jim." She handed him a manila envelope. "It says that it's urgent, so I thought I'd better give it to you right away. They made a mistake with your rank though." She smiled before exiting the room.
"Thanks," Jim said, looking at the envelope that had a red URGENT sticker stuck on the front. There was no return address; only three printed words that made him frown.
Captain James Ellison.
"What is it, Jim?" Blair asked with concern and quickly stepped up beside him. Placing a hand on Jim's arm, he looked at the envelope then back at Jim. "What do you think it is?"
"Let's find out." Snatching a letter opener from Simon's desk, Jim carefully slit open the envelope and slid the contents out onto the desktop. Words cut out from a newspaper were glued onto the white paper forming a sentence.
"An eye for an eye," Simon read aloud while reaching into his desk drawer and retrieving an evidence bag. "What the hell does that mean?"
Tilting his head slightly to one side, Jim shook his head. "I have no idea."
"Is it some kind of threat?" Sandoval asked, peering around Blair at the note.
"It must be," replied Jim, "but like I said, I don't know what it means." He carefully slipped both the envelope and paper into the plastic bag, sealed it and handed it to his captain.
"Whoever sent it obviously knows about your military past," Blair said, sounding a little nervous.
Jim rubbed at his forehead, his mind trying to flash through all the men -- and women -- who he took down during his military career but there were too many for him to narrow down in just a few minutes. "At the moment, I can't think who it could be." His partner shifted closer to him and Jim felt a hand lightly rest on his back. When he glanced at Blair and noticed the worry in his eyes, he gave him reassuring smile.
"I'll take this down to Forensics. Maybe they can get some prints off the paper." Simon held up the evidence bag then addressed Jim. "In the meantime, I want you and Sandburg to interview Kendrick."
"Yes, sir." Jim headed for the door, his partner right behind him.
"Would you mind if I came along?" the sheriff asked before Jim had stepped through the doorway.
Looking at his partner, Jim saw the small nod of approval. He then turned to get permission from his superior. "Captain?"
"Go ahead." Simon waved them out.
When the three of them stopped in front of the elevator, Blair turned to Sandoval and said, "Would you excuse us for a minute? I need to speak with Jim."
"Sure. I'll go make a couple of phone calls." The sheriff turned around and headed back into the bullpen.
With a tilt of his head, Blair motioned toward the break room and Jim followed him, closing the door once they were both inside. "What's up, Chief?"
Blair paced for a second before facing Jim. "I'm sure that note is related to whomever killed Bradford. It's an awfully big coincidence that you receive a threat at the same time that a professional killer happens to be in Cascade. Yuri-"
"Chief," Jim warned. "I thought we decided to drop this whole Yuri theory?"
"No, man. You decided to drop it. I, however, did not."
"Why are you being so persistent about this?"
"Because I have this odd feeling that it has to do with Yuri. Maybe he did survive somehow. You of all people know that anything is possible."
"Yeah, well, I really doubt he had a shaman to bring him back to life," Jim said, his tone sounding more sarcastic than he had intended. Shifting his gaze to Blair, he could have kicked himself for causing the hurt look that flashed across his guide's face before it changed to anger.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Blair remained silent as he gazed out the break room window. Jim knew that he needed to apologize immediately or else he'd be dealing with a pissed off Guide for the rest of the day.
"I'm sorry, Blair." Using his first name got the effect that Jim had hoped for and Blair turned to face him. "I didn't mean to say that the way I did. I know I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for your powers. Do you forgive me?" Jim did his own version of Blair's puppy-dog look and grinned sweetly.
"Oh man, stop it with 'the look'." Blair laughed, holding up his hands in surrender. "Yes, I forgive you." Glancing around to be sure no one was close-by, Blair reached up and quickly brushed his fingers across Jim's cheek. "How could I not when you look at me like that."
Jim smiled, capturing Blair's hand and giving it a quick kiss before letting go. "I know Yuri died, Chief. I listened for his heartbeat and it had stopped and he wasn't breathing."
"Okay." Blair nodded and seemed to think for a moment before saying, "But could it be related to him somehow? Maybe a relative or " Blair paused and stared directly at Jim. "Or a brother."
The thought of someone as deadly as Yuri coming after him sent a chill through his body. If Blair was right, then being anywhere near him at the moment put Blair at risk of being hurt or killed. "Look, maybe you should take some time off. Go visit your mom-"
"No way, Jim." Blair cut him off. "Remember our promise to one another. We don't split up."
"I just want you safe."
With a firm yet gentle voice, Blair said, "The only safe place for me is right here with you."
Jim took a calming breath before replying, "All right." He knew Blair was right, that they had to stick together, but it was hard to ignore the primal voice inside of him that screamed to protect his guide at all costs.