Never What it Seems
Cover by Ankaree
Art by Lisa, Ankaree and Annie
"Sandburg! Ellison! I need you to roll ASAP." Simon clamped his cigar between his teeth and stood, hands on hips, in the center of the bullpen.
Jim stopped a few feet away from his boss as he walked across the room, nodding crisply. "Yes, sir!" He then gave Simon a jaunty salute, along with a cocky grin.
"Smart ass," Simon muttered intently eyeing Jim. "Sandburg, here's the call."
Blair took the proffered paper from his boss's fingers. "Sure, Simon. Come on, Jim. We have a job to do."
Jim raised an eyebrow, a chuckle escaping his lips. "Oh, really? Then lead on, my liege."
Blair laughed, but he gave Jim almost the same look that Simon had just a minute ago. "What is up with you today?"
Jim ruffled Blair's hair on the way to the elevator, earning him a swat on the arm. "Nothing. Why?"
"You're awfully chipper. You're cracking jokes and being generally... cheerful."
Giving Blair an exasperated look, Jim crossed his arms after punching the elevator's 'down' button. "So let me get this straight..." he said, putting a finger alongside his mouth while he feigned deep concentration. "You're always grousing at me for being too anal, too uptight, too straight-laced, too rigid-"
"-too persnickety," Jim continued, not missing a beat, "so when I'm all happy and carefree, you look upon those actions with suspicion?"
Blair's eyes narrowed before he moved closer to his partner. "Breathe on me."
"What?" Jim said, jerking back an inch or two.
"Breathe on me. I want to see if you've been drinking. Or maybe it's something you ate," he added, his voice taking on a suspicious tone while his eyes narrowed. Sniffing loudly in Jim's direction, he asked, "How do you feel? Did you eat something that's somehow made you -- spacey? Maybe I need to take your temperature," he added, reaching out to touch Jim's forehead.
Jim laughed and after latching strong fingers onto Blair's hand as it came toward him, forestalling his partner's exam, he directed Blair into the open elevator. "Oh, I'm definitely high, Chief, and it's not from food or drink." Jim hit the garage level button, leaning over Blair's shoulder to do so. He paused with his chest lightly pressing against Blair's back. "It's from you. Last night was... Let's just say that was the most impressive thing I've ever done, or seen, in my entire life. Including on film, I might add."
Blair smiled widely, but it quickly faded. He waved the piece of paper he still held near Jim's face. "Thanks, but we have a dead person to think about, Jim."
Jim nodded, resting his chin on Blair's shoulder briefly. "Yes, I know, but you're alive and I'm alive, and because of that fact, we will find who dared kill a member of our tribe. Okay?" Turning and giving Jim a grateful look, Blair nodded. "And don't forget," Jim continued, "it's almost Christmas, and we have that and a wedding to think about. I know, and you know that there are bad people out there killing and raping and stealing, but it's up to us to make sure Simon and Amy have a good start to their new lives together. It's important that we protect our -- souls, for lack of a better word, and that we take care of each other."
Blair's eyebrows hit his hairline. "You are definitely feeling good today, Ellison," he said with a laugh. "You're right. I know you're right. But... sometimes, it's just hard..."
"Chief," Jim said softly, "it's always hard when somebody's killed. That's why we do the best we can, to help right the wrongs. That sounds -- egotistical, but it's what we're best at, you and me. Together, we make a difference."
As the doors opened at the garage level, Blair hesitated for a moment, glancing into Jim's eyes. "How do you do that?" he asked before following Jim to the truck.
"What?" Jim asked, unlocking the driver's door, and climbing in. He reached over to unlocked Blair's door.
Blair climbed in also, and said, "Know just what to say."
"I'm good. What can I say?"
Laughing, Blair shook his head. "Love you, man."
"Me, too, partner. Me too."
"What do we have, Dan?" Jim asked, gaze raking over the sheet-covered body. Near the victim's head, a wide circle of blood colored the white sheet in crimson. Blair stood next to Jim, also looking down. Jim heard him swallow and huff out a breath. He gave Blair a quick smile of reassurance and was pleased to see his partner return his encouragement with a grateful nod.
"Jim. Blair," Dan acknowledged. "This is my new assistant, Derek Morelli. He just transferred in from The Big Apple. Blair Sandburg and Jim Ellison, detectives with Major Crime."
"Nice to meet you, Derek," Blair said, holding out his hand.
Jim followed suit, giving the man a quick once-over. Another young one, he realized, suddenly feeling his age. Morelli was about thirty, tall, good-looking, and in great shape, he noted. Under his lab coat, Derek wore an expensive-looking suit, a silk tie, and sported imported Italian loafers, not to mention manicured nails. Jim thought it was a bit much for a forensics assistant, but who was he to question a guy's appearance. He spent enough time at the gym, so he knew what it was to want to look good to the outside world. With a curt nod, Jim shook Derek's hand. "Welcome to Cascade."
"Thanks," Derek responded. "Glad to be here."
"Go ahead, Dan," Jim encouraged after introductions were concluded.
"Hispanic male, age 22. Roberto Martinez. Single gunshot to the temple. Looks like a 9 mil."
"Gang related?" Blair asked.
Derek shrugged, adding, "Too soon to tell. We'll run the bullet through ballistics, of course."
When Jim hunkered down to pull back the sheet covering the body, Dan said, "I'm thinking car-jacking. Look here." Jim rose, and he and Blair followed Dan. "There are clear tire tracks in the dirt alongside the body, then they hit the pavement right here." The men hunkered down to look at the black rubber marks. "You can see that when the driver left the shoulder, he peeled rubber on the pavement, taking off." Dan walked along for several more yards before he pointed to another evidence marker. "This is where he shifted from first to second. It was a manual transmission; he left rubber here, which means he was really pounding the gearshift."
"Good catch, Dan. We'll keep that in mind. Do we know what kind of car the victim owned?" Blair asked.
Derek answered, "We're running him through the database right now. Dan said to put a CC on the request, so it will go directly to your email box, Detective Ellison. The rest we'll let you know after we do the postmortem and get the workup finished."
"Good work. Thanks," Jim said with a nod. "We'll catch up with you both at the lab. Come on, Chief."
"Nice meeting you, Derek," Blair added before following his partner.
Jim walked the perimeter of the scene, glancing around while he studied the surroundings.
"Anything?" Blair asked, standing off to one side with his hands in pockets.
"Not much. It's been raining quite a bit, so anything of value is long gone. We'll have more luck with the bullet, or when patrol finds the guy's car."
"If they find it."
Raising his head, Jim nodded, giving his partner a quick smile. "Right. Are you okay?"
Blair shrugged. "Yeah. It's nothing."
"What's nothing? You're suddenly all -- twitchy." Jim intently eyed Blair, scanning him lightly.
Again, Blair shrugged. "Just a feeling... You know."
With a sigh, Jim asked again, "What's wrong?"
Blair's eyes widened, and he held out his hands. "Really, Jim, I don't know. I felt a sudden chill and now it's gone."
"Right. It's gone. Kind of like those feelings you had from Laura. You remember how it was an elusive thing. You noticed something, but then it was gone. And I do feel fine."
"You let me know if you feel it again, okay?" At Blair's nod, Jim added, "Let's go and run our victim through the database for a background check before we connect back up with Dan."
"Yeah, and Morelli."
Blair laughed. "You have a thing about last names, don't you?"
Jim shrugged as he climbed into his truck. "It's a military thing."
"I know. I was just commenting. Besides, there are times when you say Sandburg just so, that makes me very -- let's say, interested."
Laughing, Jim started the engine and pulled away.
"Oh, man. Wow!"
Blair's exclamation, along with the breath he sucked in, brought Jim's head up sharply. "What?"
"Take a look. I ran the make and model of our victim's ride that the DMV provided to get the fair market value for the report."
Jim slid his chair over to stare at Blair's computer screen. "Yeah. Wow."
(insert Lisa' pic of Jim and Blair at computer here.)
"That's almost sinful."
"Almost?" Jim asked, giving a wry chuckle.
"Yeah, man," Blair quipped. "I'd kill to have a ride like that."
Jim shook his head, tapping Blair's arm with his clenched hand. "Somebody did, Chief," he reminded his partner.
"Oh, yeah. Right. Bad choice of words. Sorry. Do people really own vehicles like this?" he asked, his eyes still glued to the computer screen. "It is impressive, though. Do you know what the retail value of that Mercedes SL65 is?"
"A hundred and thirty grand?"
Blair scrolled down the page and highlighted the figure noted on the bottom of the screen. "Close, man. Very close. About one-fifty, give or take."
"Yeah, I know," Blair said with a sigh as he scanned the pictures once again. "It's a beautiful vehicle."
"It sure is," Jim responded. He slid back to his own desk just as his email notifier pinged. "Shit," he muttered softly after a quick glance at the contents of the message.
"Our victim, Martinez? He's the son of Enrique Martinez."
Blair paused for a moment, sucking in his lower lip, before he asked, "The current owner of the Jags?"
"Right. So it's possible that this was a simple carjacking after all. I doubt the son of Enrique Martinez needs to deal drugs or run with mobsters to be able to afford a car like that. Then again, you never know. What do you say we go and have a talk with Mr. Martinez?"
"Jim, man, you will remember to be polite. After all, his son is a victim."
Jim saw the concerned look on Blair's face. He smiled reassuringly at his partner. "I know, Sandburg. Thanks. You're always better at this emotional stuff than I am. I tend to -- avoid it if I can."
Blair returned his partner's smile with one of his own. "You're selling yourself short. I remember how Joel said you were with Jennifer Olsen when Dennis Chung was killed. And I've seen you work with my own eyes. You have this presence that is very reassuring."
Shrugging, Jim said, "I didn't do much. Just tried to be supportive."
"You did fine, Jim."
"Thanks, Chief. Let's do this."
Blair took the lead after Jim introduced himself and his partner to the bereaved father. They silently followed Martinez across the foyer of his large house and into the study where he waved them into the chairs in front of his desk. After Martinez sat down behind his desk, a place where Jim knew the man felt more in control, he nodded to Blair.
"Mr. Martinez, we're very sorry for your loss. Are you up for a few questions?"
Martinez nodded curtly, his head held stiffly. "Anything to find the monsters who killed my son."
"Good," Blair said sympathetically. "It will help the more information we have, and the sooner the better." He glanced at Jim, who gave him another encouraging nod. "When was the last time you saw your son?"
"Yesterday afternoon. We had lunch together to celebrate."
"Yes, he graduated from Rainier with a degree in business last year and I promised him a new..." Martinez dropped his head, rubbing his eyes with his fingers. "Sorry," he murmured
"It's okay, sir," Blair said reassuringly. "Just tell us in your own time."
With a huff of breath, Martinez raised his head, looking from one man to the other as he spoke. "I promised Bobby that new car if he worked in the office for one year in a very junior position. I wanted him to know the business from the ground up. It's important..." With a sigh, Martinez paused to examine his fingernails. "He finished his year last week, and I had given him the keys to the Mercedes..." Again, Martinez paused to gather himself in, but after a moment, he continued. "Then yesterday... I'd been busy last week with an IRS audit and couldn't get away from the office until yesterday. We had a celebratory lunch at the club, and then Bobby went to pick up his girlfriend. They were going out on a date."
"So he never made it to -- his friend's house?"
"Gracelyn Anderson. That's my- was my son's girlfriend. No, he never made it. She called the house about an hour after he was supposed to show... Bobby was a stickler for punctuality. He even let me have it a couple of times when I was late for board meetings." Martinez smiled softly with remembrance before he shook his head and returned his focus to the detectives. "I'm sorry."
Jim finally spoke. "From what we can tell, he's never been in trouble."
Martinez shook his head. "He's a good kid. He came home drunk once, but he was so sick the next day, that was the extent of his foray into alcohol. And he disliked drugs after his mother... She was in rehab a couple of times before she kicked the prescriptions. He saw what it did to a family." Martinez leaned forward, grief and anger etched on his face. "He was a good boy, looking forward to maybe marrying this gal and having a family... Now..." Martinez's control fell, and he covered his face with his hands.
Blair rose, as did Jim. "Thank you, Mr. Martinez. We'll let you know if we have any further questions, and we'll see ourselves out," Blair said.
Martinez waved a hand toward the door. "If you don't mind..."
Jim answered firmly, "We'll find who did this to your son." As they left the room, Jim heard the man's soft whisper of thanks.
"I think he's on the up and up," Blair said on the ride back to the station.
"Yeah, me too. I think the kid was a target because of the black market value of that vehicle, and not because of anything he did." Jim chewed his cheek. "It sucks."
Blair laughed. "I'm rubbing off on you."
At Blair's light laughter and comment, Jim realized what he'd said. He let out a small bark of laughter. "You can rub off on me anytime, Chief." The cell phone in Jim's coat pocket started to vibrate, so he took one hand of the steering wheel to fish it out.
Blair held out his hand. "Give that to me," he ordered. "No talking on cell phones while driving. New departmental safety policy." Jim gave Blair a quick exasperated glance before he handed it over. "We'll get you a hand's free connection from Radio Shack later." Hitting the 'on' button, he answered, "Ellison and Sandburg."
"This is your main man!" came the loud voice.
Blair grimaced as held the phone away from his ear before he moved it closer to ask, "Sneaks?"
Jim let out a snort, which earned him a narrow-eyed glare from his partner. Guess he still hadn't forgiven Jim for losing those Nikes a few years ago. When Jim glanced down at Blair's shoes, Blair gave him the finger. Laughing, Jim knew that Blair had never worn his favorite footwear to work since that day, and today, he wore his old, ratty Converse tennis shoes.
"You want a doughnut?"
Blair wrinkled his nose, making Jim grin. "Putz," he whispered, his hand momentarily covering the speaker. "Yeah, Sneaks. Thirty minutes? Same place?"
"Yeah. Same bat time, same bat channel! It's a date!"
Blair disconnected and slipped Jim's phone back into his pocket. "That was Sneaks."
Laughing, Jim turned the corner down Elmora and headed toward their usual meeting place. "He must have info. That was quick. Word must be already out about a new chop shop or somebody setting up a midnight auto supply outlet."
"He must want new sneakers," Blair said with a smirk. "I'm glad I'm wearing my tennies today. You're going to have to cough up an extra twenty."
Jim snickered at first, then he grimaced when he realized that he would have to fork over the extra cash for their snitch's info. "So much for this partnership," he muttered.
"All is fair in love and snitches. Oh, by the way, Jim, we have to run over to Rise 'n Shine in the next few days to help Megan with the final choices. We need to find an hour when we're all free and can meet up. Before Friday, or we'll be serving Hostess cupcakes at the reception."
"Tell me again why we're doing this, and why Simon and Amy aren't?"
Blair sighed dramatically. "You know exactly why, Jim. After Simon and Amy said they were going to elope, you, Megan and I decided that giving them a small, informal wedding would be our gift to them. They agreed. Besides, Simon has absolutely no idea how to plan a wedding -- you remember what happened when he took over the annual PD picnic that year?" Blair shivered theatrically before he continued. "And Amy's new position as head nurse of Intensive Care is extremely hectic. Megan said Amy told her she really wanted a wedding since this is her first trip down the aisle, but she admitted that she plain didn't have the time to plan one. Not with her parents being dead, and no other family members to pitch in. So we volunteered. Besides, she wants to enjoy her special day-"
"Sandburg, we are so under-qualified in this department, it's not even funny."
"Jim, they're friends. Special friends. And Megan has been researching wedding stuff for months now, ever since Rafe popped the question. This leaves Amy enjoying her wedding day, instead of dreading it, or worrying about every detail. This way, it will be special for both of them. You know we agreed that we'd do the final selections with Megan after she's narrowed down the choices on the caterer and the baker. I think it's been going very well, and I have to say, I've enjoyed myself."
"And we're not busy? That's what wedding planners are for."
"It's not that, Jim. Of course, we're busy, it's just that I wanted to help."
"The operative word being "I", Chief. There's no us in "I"."
With a snicker, Blair added, "There is in this relationship."
Jim cast him a mildly exasperated glance. It was mostly for show, but he had a reputation to keep up, he told himself. "Nothing extra fancy, right?"
"No, nothing extra fancy. Just a gathering of friends. I don't know why you're grousing now. We've already scheduled the location, the minister, the caterer and the DJ. There's not much else, but picking out a cake, tasting the hors d'oeuvres, and getting our good suits pressed."
"No tuxes, right? You promised!"
"Nope, this is casual. Nice suits for the guys and Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes for the ladies. It will be great!" When Jim started to chuckle, Blair smacked his arm. "Ellison, you are such an asshole. You love pulling my chain, don't you?"
All Jim could do was laugh as they pulled up in front of The Sugar Rush. His nostrils flared. "It smells like heaven!"
"Oh, God," Blair muttered. "Think about your waistline. Not to mention your arteries!"
Jim glanced over at Blair and waggled his eyebrows. "I'm thinking about my stomach right now, Chief."
Blair followed his partner with a sad shake of his head. They found an empty table in the busy cafe and ordered coffee. Jim added a half a dozen crullers to his order after the waiter mentioned they were the freshest items currently available.
"I love crullers," Jim mused. "They remind me of Sunday mornings when I was a kid."
Blair smiled. "That's special, Jim. Did your dad let you have doughnuts after church?"
"Nope. He always said doughnuts were a waste of money. Mom would take us when he was away on business. After she left... Well, that's exactly why I used to take Stevie down to the doughnut shop every Sunday on our way home from Sunday School. I used my own allowance, and Stevie never told on us. He was little then, before..." Jim sighed before he said fondly, "God, but I loved those chocolate glazed ones when I was a kid."
Before Blair could respond, Sneaks blew into the cafe and after shouting a loud "hello", he slid into a chair next to Jim.
"Fellas, fellas," he said quickly. "What's up? The sky, the moon, the stars. I have something for you. Yes, I do. Something..." He looked expectantly at Jim.
"Sneaks," Jim acknowledged, but paused when the waiter returned with the coffee and the plate of fresh doughnuts. "Thank you," Jim said to the waiter. He sipped his coffee first before biting into a doughnut. "Oh, God..." he mumbled around a mouthful of sugar pastry. "These are fabulous. Have one, Chief." He slid the plate toward Blair, who gingerly took one of the warm pastries.
With Jim watching expectantly, Blair bit into the doughnut and chewed slowly. Instead of the usual grimace of distaste, Jim grinned when Blair smiled, his eyes lighting up.
"Hey! These are good!" Blair said in a surprised voice.
"No shit, Sherlock," Jim muttered, happily eating his second. After licking his fingers, he slid the plate toward Sneaks. "Doughnut?"
"Thanks. Thanks," Sneaks said, taking a cake. "Good stuff." He downed his doughnut in two bites before he licked his fingers.
"So...?" Jim asked.
Leaning closer, Sneaks theatrically whispered, "Word is that there's a new gig in town. Special order cars for special folks in Egypt, or Iran or one of those hot, sandy places with all the oil. They have orders for a dozen."
"Oh? Any names with this operation?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, yeah." Sneaks nodded happily. "Name of-" he glanced around to be sure no one was listening, "-Abdulah Farrarah."
Jim raised an eyebrow. "That's it? Nothing else??"
"Nope, that's it. You know I'll let you know if anything else comes to these amazing ears. So... so," Sneaks said excitedly in a hushed voice, "how much? Huh? How much is that worth?"
Opening his wallet, Jim passed the man two twenty-dollar bills. "Thanks for your help."
"Yeah, sure." Sneaks rose. "Any time. Anything for you. Thanks." He glanced around before bending down to look under the table. "No bonus?" he asked, almost pouting. "Nothing new and exciting for your old pal?"
Jim chuckled, shaking his head. "Sorry. Maybe next time."
Sneaks frowned. "Yeah, right. We'll see. Inflation. My prices will rise." His eyes darted back and forth before he reached out and snatched the last doughnut. Then he practically bounced from the place, munching as he went.
Jim sighed. "I never thought anybody on the planet had more energy than you, Sandburg, but I was wrong."
Blair laughed. "Thanks for the comparison, Ellison. So was the lead worth the cash? Anybody you'd heard of before?"
"No. Didn't mean a thing, so it's hard to tell. We'll check it out."
Jim slid the truck into an empty spot amid the patrol cars, ambulance and coroner's wagon. He killed the engine before turning to his partner. "You ready?"
"You're a good partner."
Blair turned toward Jim, his eyes telegraphing pleasure even if his face was its usual troubled countenance when responding to a murder. "Thanks, man."
As they walked toward the scene where everyone was gathered, Jim mused, "Too bad that Sneaks' tip hasn't panned out."
"As of yet, Jim. We haven't had much time to follow his lead. It's only been a couple of days."
"Still..." Jim shifted his shoulders. "I have a feeling that it was a bum lead."
Blair raised an eyebrow. "Do you think he passed on bad info on purpose?"
"No. Nothing like that. I think it was planted. Somebody knows he's our snitch."
"That's not good. I hope you're wrong. I'd hate to put him in danger."
"Me, too. Wolf. Morelli." Jim greeted the men with a nod.
"Hi, guys," Blair added.
"Hey, Jim, Blair," Dan acknowledged, with Derek adding his own greetings.
"What do we have, Dan?" Blair asked.
"Looks like another one. Same MO. Single gunshot wound. No vehicle to be seen. Another carjacking I'd say," Dan explained.
Jim hunkered down, pulling back the sheet covering the body. He stared into the face of the dead woman. She looked -- average. Like somebody's mother or grandmother. The greying hair was matted with drying blood. "Details?"
"Deana Swanson, age 52. 459 Coburn Avenue," Derek supplied.
Jim glanced from Derek to Dan. "That's not in a fancy part of town. Average, middle-class. What could she have been driving that would have lead to this?" he asked, letting the sheet fall back before he rose.
Dan shrugged. "I'll leave that for you, Jim. I'll run the bullet and compare it to the first victim. Have the results later today."
"Thanks, Dan. Good seeing you again, Derek," Blair said with a smile.
"Yeah, same here," Derek answered. "Catch you later at the lab."
With a nod, Jim walked back to his truck with Blair beside him. When he glanced over at his partner, he noticed Blair's frown. "Chief?"
Blair visibly shivered. "Man! I hate that!"
"That -- feeling! You know the one. When your hair stands up on the back of your neck and your entire body is covered in goose bumps."
"Goose walk on your grave?"
"Exactly!" Blair grimaced. "That's an old folk belief, Jim, but it fits. I had this weird, creepy flash of -- something."
"Sandburg, you having a weird, creepy flash of anything is not all that unusual," Jim said dryly, earning him a smack on the arm from his partner.
"Jim, this makes absolutely no sense."
"Yeah. A 1996 Ford Fiesta? This has to be wrong," Jim said firmly, examining the screen.
"But it's her picture. It's her address. It's her, man. She owned a piece of shit car."
"Maybe she rented something. You know, for kicks or whatever. Something expensive."
Blair's eyes widened. "Oh, good idea. Let's split the rental companies and start calling."
Jim groaned. "Do you know how many rental car agencies there are in Cascade?"
Blair laughed as he typed on his keyboard. "Ah... seventy-eight. But remember, Budget and the other big guys have multiple offices. We only need to contact the main ones. Besides, they don't have really expensive cars anyway. They have nice ones, but nothing that fits this MO."
Jim chewed on his lower lip. "I doubt they'll give us the info without a warrant. Let's run over to her residence and see if we can find something about this before we spend hours calling the rental agencies."
"Good plan. We can check out her mail and her computer, if she has one. It might be more useful than hours on the phone. "
With a smile, Jim nodded as he rose. Tossing Blair his jacket that he'd pulled from the coat tree, he shrugged into his own. "Come on, Sandburg. This one feels right on."
Blair rose, smiling. "I'm with you."
"I know," Jim said, returning Blair's smile with a warm one of his own.
While Jim searched through their latest victim's desk drawers, Blair powered up the desktop computer. He sat down and started scrolling through files while Jim read and discarded several papers. Finding nothing in the drawers, he turned to the pile of mail resting in a wire basket on a corner.
"Hey, look at this." Blair leaned closer to the screen, pulling his glasses from his pocket and slipping them on.
Jim peered over Blair's shoulder. "From some prize company?"
"Yeah. It's from Supermarket Sweepstakes. 'You've won! Yes, it's true! Your name has been selected at random from all entries! You have won the use of a brand new Ferrari for one week! You're a winner! Please contact Leslie for details. Congratulations!' At the bottom, there's the fine print. 'Prize must be claimed within forty-eight hours of notification to be valid. Call now!' There's an 800 number. Man, this can't be a coincidence, Jim. What are the chances of this woman riding around in an expensive sports car, and being in exactly the right place to be carjacked?"
"Print out a copy of that email, Chief. Any response? Do we know that's where she got the car?"
Blair hit the print button and while he waited for the paper to eject, he scrolled through the rest of the emails. "Nothing here in response, but she could have called. So what do you think? That somebody at -- this place, if there is such a place, set up the heist?" Turning back to the computer, Blair entered more information while Jim watched.
Jim rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, maybe. When we busted your little friend, Francine, they somehow managed to locate and follow the victims. It could be that they have some connection at the company. I have a feeling there is no prize company." Jim exchanged a look with Blair before he asked, "Or maybe at the rental agency?"
Blair looked up. "Oh, good idea! If it was a set up of some sort, this -- whoever wouldn't necessarily own an expensive car like this. They could have rented it. Our vic could have been the intended target after all." When another page loaded, he added, "Nope, no such prize organization comes up in a search. So we know the email was a plant."
"No company with that name." Jim worried his lower lip for a second before he said, "But our vic didn't necessarily have to know that. She gets the email, decides it sounds like fun, calls and actually gets the vehicle. So why should she, or would she be suspicious?" Jim considered again before he said, "I think following up with the rental idea is a good one. And just how many exclusive, expensive car rental agencies that would have a Ferrari are there in Cascade?"
Turning back to the computer, Blair entered the new information. After a few moments, he said, "Two, man. Only two."
"Print their addresses, Chief. We have some footwork to do."
"Right." Again, Blair printed out the page. "What are you doing?"
"Finding a picture of Ms. Swanson to take with us."
Jim snickered. "I'm a detective, Sandburg," he drawled teasingly.
In response, Blair grinned. "So you are."
Jim ruffled Blair's hair, they gathered the papers they needed, and headed toward the first rental agency on Pacific Heights Boulevard.
"Quite the fancy place," Blair mused when they pulled up in front of the establishment.
"Way out of my price range," Jim muttered as they walked toward the front door, glancing around at the cars lined up behind the high, electrified fence. "There must be two, three mil in just the first group."
Nodding, Blair grinned. "I can't even afford a day's rental on one of these babies," he added, pulling open the door and following Jim through.
"Gentlemen, good day." A smartly dressed woman greeted them. "I'm Gwendolyn. May I be of service?"
Jim flashed his badge. "Detective Ellison, Cascade PD. Detective Sandburg. We're on an investigation. May we ask a few questions?"
"Did you recently rent a vehicle to this woman?"
After carefully examining the picture, the woman shook her head. "No, I don't recognize her."
Blair asked, "Have you rented any Ferraris this week?"
"Yes. A new arrival. A beautiful vehicle if I do say so myself. It's a pure pleasure to drive."
"Ma'am," Jim said, barely hiding his excitement, "when is the vehicle due back?"
"It was returned about four hours ago."
Jim's jaw jumped, and he and Blair exchanged looks. "We need to have our forensics department examine the vehicle. We believe it might have been used in the commission of a crime," Blair said.
"Oh, how dreadful! Nothing serious, I hope. We have full insurance coverage, but I can assure you that the vehicle was returned in pristine condition. There was no damage to it. Not a scratch."
"It wasn't a traffic accident, Ma'am," Jim explained. "Please show us the car so that we can move it to a place where Forensics can conduct a search."
"Certainly," Gwendolyn said, "but you should know that it's been fully detailed already. It's scheduled to go out again later today."
"Detailed?" Blair echoed.
Jim sighed. "That means gone through with a fine tooth comb; everything cleaned and polished."
"Yes, Detective," Gwendolyn said with a nod. "We're extremely thorough. Our clientèle expects the best service possible. Leasing a dirty vehicle is against company policy."
Jim smiled warmly. "Do you think we could see the rental agreement?"
Gwendolyn shook her head. "I'm so sorry. I would need a warrant, of course. But if you provide me with one, I'd be happy to make you copies of whatever you need."
"I understand." Jim hesitated before he asked politely, turning on the charm, "May we see the car?"
"But I just said-" Gwendolyn said.
"Please," Jim said, adding a touch of gentle pleading to his tone. "Just a few minutes, then we'll be out of your hair. Please." Leaning in, he explained, "Someone has been murdered, and we want to find who did it."
Gwendolyn's eyes widened. "How dreadful!" She glanced at Blair, who nodded sympathetically. "This way, gentlemen." She led the way through an extremely clean garage to where the bright red Ferrari now sat.
"Wow," Blair whispered.
"Don't touch it," Jim muttered. "We can't even afford the wax."
Laughing, Blair leaned down to peer into the interior.
"It's not locked. I'll leave you to your perusal," Gwendolyn said. "I have things to attend to. Please let me know when you leave, and," she glanced around, "don't touch anything! Insurance, you know."
"We'll be quick," Blair said reassuringly.
The men waited for the woman to leave before Jim gingerly opened the driver's door. Almost afraid to touch something worth five years' salary, he leaned in and focused his eyesight. Searching for minute traces of anything that could have been left by either their victim or the unknown renter, Jim scanned the floors and seat upholstery carefully. He ran his fingers between the seat and down the back. The vehicle was indeed clean, amazingly so. The detailers were extremely efficient. With a sigh, Jim hunkered down and ran a hand under the seat, turning up his sense of touch. Nothing registered to his sensitive skin.
"Try the passenger's side."
Jim nodded and rose, absentmindedly dusting off his hands. He skirted the car and after opening the passenger door, again searched intently. After more than a few minutes, he sighed, shaking his head. "Not a damned thing," he growled. "Shit." Squatting back on his heels, he rested his elbows his knees for a moment, his gaze perusing the interior. Suddenly, he leaned forward, his head inside the car's interior.
"What?" Blair asked.
"Do you have an evidence bag?" In seconds, a bag appeared before his eyes. He took it with a nod of thanks. Fishing a latex glove from his pocket, he snapped it on before leaning further into the low-profile vehicle and using his fingers, he plucked something from the car's headliner.
"What is it?" Blair repeated.
"A hair." Jim slipped the fine hair into the plastic bag and zipped it tightly closed. Holding it up, he showed Blair. "It's short and dark. Maybe it's our perp's."
Blair squinted, peering closely at the bag after Jim handed it to him. "Not the victim's. This doesn't show any grey. The perp's, possibly. Or any one of the previous... Oh, right! This was a new rental! So it is our perp's!"
"One can only hope, Chief. But don't forget about the employees here. Somebody had to clean the car today. Plus transporters. Who knows?"
Blair shook his head. "No way. I'm keeping the faith, Jim."
"Let's call it a day."
"You have a headache."
Jim lead the way through the garage and out through the store's interior. "How do you always know?"
"I'm good, Jim."
With a warm smile, Jim glanced at his partner. "You are that, Chief."
"Detectives!" Both men stopped as Gwendolyn approached. "Thank you for your interest in our vehicles." She held out a fancy-looking brochure. "Please come in when we can be of more service to you. Have a nice afternoon."
At her pleasant smile, Jim's eyebrow raised momentarily before he accepted the brochure. "Thank you, Ma'am. You've been very helpful."
"Thanks," Blair added. As they exited the store and walked toward the truck, he asked, "What did I miss?"
Jim handed the brochure to Blair. "Take a look."
Blair flipped open the brochure where a single sheet of paper lay. He glanced at it before he said softly, "Oh! She gave us a copy of the rental agreement without a warrant. That was cool of her, even if she did do something a little bit -- illegal."
Simon poured coffee and handed a cup over to Jim. "Thank you, sir."
"Good coffee, Simon," Blair said, sipping his drink. "New blend?"
"It's Maxwell House, Sandburg."
Blair laughed. "Tired of all those fancy blends?"
Simon glared. "A report would be nice."
Jim laughed. "Sorry, Simon. Blair hasn't had enough caffeine in him this morning. The lab confirms that while both victims were killed with the same caliber of weapon -- 9 mm, but the rifling marks show that the bullets came from different weapons. No match from ballistics on either bullet. They ran the DNA on the hair, but again, nothing. They'll keep the sample on file for future reference."
"What about the rental agreement Jim sweet-talked out of the agency's employee?"
"A dead end, sir," Blair said, casting a smirk at Jim. "We checked out the name and address on the agreement. The address would have put the house in the middle of the river, and the name didn't pan out. The credit card was bogus."
Ignoring his partner's subtle teasing about making an impression on the woman at the rental agency, Jim added, "When the rental agency did a credit check, whoever this guy is, he was able to cover his tracks well enough for the check to pass muster."
Blair nodded. "And he even returned the car!"
"Somebody returned the car, Chief. Remember, they left it in the agency's lot before opening and put the keys through the late-night return slot."
Simon held up a hand. "Wait. Somebody had to pick up the vehicle."
"Somebody did, Simon," Jim said. "A middle aged man of average build, average height, average weight. No distinguishing characteristics. We pulled the surveillance tapes, but the tape was all messed up. The lab says it was caught in the machine."
Blair snorted. "The damn VCR was ten years old. No wonder. All those fancy cars and they couldn't spring for a new video recorder."
Jim let out an irritated "humph". "No kidding. Anyway, the woman from the rental agency tried to be helpful. She spent three hours going through mug books, but she didn't find a match."
"I think he was probably in disguise anyway," Blair offered. "Make yourself as plain as possible, and nobody notices or remembers you."
"Right," Jim said. "We're staying on this one, Captain."
Simon sighed. "These two crimes went down in record time, but since the second one, nothing. A pro team would be doing the jobs quickly so they can pull out and move to another locale." Simon shook his head. "Besides, they didn't keep the Ferrari, and there's nothing to tie the two crimes together. I think you're fishing in the wrong creek."
"Simon, you sound as if you want another carjacking, so we know there's a gang working Cascade. And it's only been two days since the second murder. We need more time on both cases. You're not thinking about pulling us off these, are you?" Jim asked in a tense voice.
"Something's not right, man," Blair mused. Jim and Simon looked at him, but Blair just shrugged. "I don't know!" he protested, throwing out his hands. "Something! We need to keep working both of these cases together."
With a shake of his head, Simon held up his hand. "Save it, both of you. I need solid leads or these are going to be kicked out by the next big case that comes along! They'll be passed onto other departments, and you know that's not what I want." Simon pointed a finger at Jim when he started to protest. "Don't get your knickers in a bunch, Jim. They're still your cases, and they're both still open-" The buzzer on Simon's desk rang out. He punched the blinking light. "Banks." After listening for a minute, he responded, "I'm sending my best men, sir. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Good morning." His gaze went from Jim to Blair, then back to Jim. "Speaking of the next big thing... That was the mayor." Jim rolled his eyes while Blair sighed. "You know I hate politics as much as the next guy, but you have a job. Double homicide in Baywater Estates."
Blair's eyes widened. "Where?"
"You heard me, Sandburg. Why are you both still sitting here?" Simon growled.
Jim rose and took the paper from his boss's outstretched fingers. He gave a low whistle after reading the address. "We seem to be rubbing elbows with the upper class these days, Chief. It's not often we take a call on the expensive side of the tracks."
Blair gave a small snort. "No kidding. So I suppose this means no breakfast?"
Jim held open the door for his partner. "You could stand to lose a few pounds anyway, Sandburg." When Blair stuck out his tongue, Jim chuckled. "Move it, partner. We have work to do."
"Morelli?" Jim questioned. "Where's Wolf?"
"Out with the flu."
"Bummer," Blair said with a shiver. "I hate the flu. What do we have?" he asked, barely glancing down at the sheet-covered bodies.
Jim's focus was on Blair, who stood close enough to Jim for him to feel Blair's body tremble minutely. Turning concerned eyes onto his partner, he put a hand on Blair's shoulder, earning him a grateful glance. At Blair's wide eyes, he asked, "Okay?" Blair nodded minutely, and as Morelli gave them the run-down, he scanned the store's interior.
"We have a robbery gone bad. There was one clerk in the store," he pointed toward the young woman sitting behind the counter speaking to a uniformed officer, "and two customers. Victim number one was a twenty-four year old female. Angela Bailey. Victim two is a fifty-five year old man... Hector Smith. Single gunshot wound to each victim. Looks like smaller handgun, maybe a .38. Happened about an hour ago," he added after glancing at his watch.
Jim walked around the bodies and lifted the sheet on each one. After a few moments' examination, he said, "Clean shots. Nothing messy here. Very professional."
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Derek said.
"Thanks." Jim gave Derek a curt nod. "Chief? How about you take the lead on this one with the clerk?"
"Thanks, Derek. See you later, man." Blair looked at the young woman and took a couple of slow, deep breaths.
"You'll be fine, Sandburg."
Blair gave Jim a grateful look, and they approached the young woman. Blair nodded to the patrol officer standing at her side. "Officer Jones?"
"Detective Sandburg. Detective Ellison. This is Brittany Cox. She witnessed everything."
"Thank you, Officer. We'll take it from here. If you could wait until we're done and take Miss Cox home, we'd really appreciate it." Jones nodded. He walked over to the doorway to wait. Blair gave the girl a sympathetic smile. "I'm Blair. This is Jim. Are you up for a few questions?"
Brittany dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "I want to go home."
"I know it's been an awful day for you, but it's always better to tell us what you saw right away. Details get fuzzy after a while, and it's really important that you tell us now what happened here today. We want to find the person who did this, and the sooner you tell us, the sooner we can get to work."
Brittany looked into Blair's eyes. "Okay," she said with a sniffle.
"Tell us your personal information first, then in your own words, explain exactly what happened," Blair said encouragingly. "And take all the time you need."
Jim watched as the young woman's sobs grew louder, and she wrapped her arms around her body. Jim hunkered down in front of the crying girl and in a sympathetic voice, said quietly, "Brittany, one more question, then Officer Jones will drive you home. You're doing a great job." The girl slowly nodded, blowing her nose. "Are you absolutely sure that he seemed to target the victims? He could have walked out with the cash, but instead, purposefully walked over to each of them and shot them?"
"Yes," she whispered. "It was like in a movie. They stood still, looking at him with this look -- too scared to scream, too scared to move... and he just shot them. In the head!" she added with a sob. "I thought I was next, but he walked past me like I wasn't there! I was so scared! I couldn't move either!"
Blair patted Brittany's shoulder. "Thank you, Brittany. You've been a great help. After you've rested, we'll have you look at the mug books and maybe work with a sketch artist. Officer? Please drive Miss Cox home. Thank you."
Waiting until the girl had left, Jim said, "We need to look at the surveillance tapes pronto. There's something strange going on here. This guy seems to be targeting specific victims."
"Derek said he'd have the tapes cued up later today after they've been logged into evidence. And I agree, there's definitely something weird here. This wasn't a robbery; it was a hit."
Suddenly, Blair's hand latched onto Jim's sleeve. Jim's gaze searched his partner's face intently. "Geez, Sandburg, you're trembling! What's wrong? You felt -- that thing again? Can you describe it?" he asked adamantly.
Blair sighed before he said, "It's like shivers down the back of my spine. It's not pleasant. In fact, it's damned creepy."
"You'll be okay, Chief. I won't let anything happen to you."
Disquieted blue eyes met Jim's. "Thanks."
Jim's eyes were closed when the small "mmm" of satisfaction escaped his lips. He licked the sweetness from mouth and again, a tiny sound of appreciation slipped past. He savored each flavor as it danced on his tongue-
Eyes snapping open, he glared at the irritating person who had disturbed his pleasant interlude. Then he realized he'd practically zoned on taste. Embarrassed, he pushed the plate toward the center of the table. "What is it, Connor?" he growled impatiently.
"I take it that you've chosen this one?" she answered, tapping the small plate that held samples of cake with a fingernail.
Jim shrugged, struggling to look nonchalant. Glancing at his partner, who returned his look with a knowing smile, he nodded. "It's the best one."
Blair laughed. "We'll have the cake made with selection number four."
The baker made a note on his clipboard. "So, the buttermilk white cake with the real creamery butter frosting between the layers. Good choice. Always favored by the guests. And just to review, we're going with the red and silver decor on an off-white fondant."
"Yes," Megan answered. "For fifty guests."
"It's an excellent selection, and I think you'll be pleased. It will be delivered to the reception facility before three pm on the thirtieth of December."
"That will be fine, Mr. Patel. The wedding is at six, so that will give us time to be sure the cake table is ready," Blair added. Rising, he shook the baker's hand. "Thank you."
Jim rose, as did Megan. They both thanked the man and followed Blair from the shop.
"Is that the last appointment?" Jim asked, a bit of a whine coloring his tone.
Blair playfully smacked his arm. "Jim, you know we have one more stop. The caterer wants us to taste the results of his efforts. Remember how you insisted on tasting the hors d'oeuvres before approving them after we picked out the ones we wanted?"
"I sure remember," Megan muttered. "He about pitched a fit."
Jim's eyebrow rose. "Oh? I am kind of hungry. Let's go and taste. And I do not pitch fits," he stated.
"It was a bloody tanty," Megan muttered. "I know a tanty when I see one."
Laughing, Blair opened the truck's passenger door and waited for Megan to climb in before he joined her. When Jim got in, Blair leaned forward and said with a smirk, "We have about an hour. Just enough time to get this done before we head back to take a look at those video tapes." Blair grinned. "Always thinking with your stomach, aren't you?"
Before pulling out into traffic, Jim looked past Megan and waggled his eyebrows suggestively at his partner. "Not always with my stomach, Chief."
Megan held up a hand. "Stop right there. TMI! Please, have mercy on the lady in the middle!"
Blair and Jim both laughed at Megan's feigned look of outrage at the obvious flirting going on, and they chatted enthusiastically as the three friends went to complete their final errand in the planning of a special wedding for special friends.
Jim carried two dinner plates to the table and after setting them down, he retrieved the basket of rolls. "Sandburg! Dinner!" he called.
"Be right there," Blair called, emerging moments later from the office. "Man, I'm starved! Looks great, Jim."
"Please." Blair sat down and spread his napkin on his lap. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Chief." After opening the two bottles, he tossed the caps into the trash on his way through the kitchen. "Just hungry."
"You are such a liar."
The men ate silently for a few minutes, satiating their hunger, until Blair said, "Good meatloaf. And you made real mashed potatoes for little ol' me?" he asked, batting his eyelashes dramatically.
"Dork," Jim muttered around a mouthful of freshly baked biscuit.
"Come on, Jim. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and biscuits. The ultimate comfort dinner that mom always used to make."
"Maybe your mother; not mine," Jim responded, waving his fork toward Blair.
"You're telling me that Sally didn't make dinners like this?"
"You said mom, not Sally."
"Dick," Blair groused before returning to his dinner. "It's still wonderful."
"Jim? Can we... you know, skip the TV and the dishes, and just everything for tonight?"
"Oh?" Jim raised an eyebrow, glancing into his lover's pleading eyes. Jim knew very well that no matter what Blair wanted, he'd get it when he used that look, but not wanting to seem too much like a push-over, he feigned ignorance. After all, he had appearances to keep up, even if they were soon to be dashed into tiny little bits, and he would be at Blair's mercy before he could say, "Fuck me, Chief."
Blair's smile widened. "I have other plans. More important ones."
Jim wiped his plate with a piece of biscuit, gathering up the last of the gravy that had escaped his fork. He chewed thoughtfully, drawing out the anticipation that grew while he watched Blair finish his meal. Leaning back, Jim took a few sips of beer before he asked, "And just what's more important than TV or doing the dishes?"
With a mischievous grin, Blair said, "We haven't had a night to ourselves in almost a week. I - Well, let's just say, I have needs, man."
Laughing, Jim shook his head in loving exasperation. "And trust me, Blair. All of your needs will be met."
Morning found the two detectives giving their boss the daily run down on their on-going investigation. After sharing some of Simon's new coffee blend, they rose to leave. As Jim opened the door, Simon called, "Say, Blair?"
"How are things going? You know, with the nuptials? Amy has been wiped out this week with the schedule they have her on, and I said I'd ask."
Raising an eyebrow, Blair asked, "And you forgot to ask until today, right?" Simon nodded, his head down. "Hey, man. It's okay. Weddings aren't usually a guy thing. But everything is great! We're all set for the thirtieth at six pm. All you need to do is remember to show up."
Jim asked, "Do you and Daryl have your suits ready?"
"Yeah. He insisted that I buy a new suit, so we went out last weekend, and I picked one out. It looks pretty good," Simon admitted. "I'm glad he made me do it."
Laughing, Jim said, "You'll look fine. Just remember to make sure that your tie and Daryl's match. That -- color that Amy picked out."
Blair put a hand over his mouth. "Jim, man, it's called silver. It's a new color, recently invented."
"Smart mouth," Jim groused teasingly. "Blair gave you that color swatch to match up."
Simon nodded. "Daryl picked out the ties. He says they match just fine. Me, I can hardly tell."
"Simon, you always dress well, and you'll look fine for the wedding."
Simon looked at Jim then Blair. "Listen. We really appreciate this. I know we kind of sprung this on our friends, with the decision to marry only after a few months of dating, but we both feel it's right. Amy and I are happy together, and since we've both waited so long to find the right person..."
'To Jim, Blair looked sympathetic enough that he was sure that his partner was ready to hug the hesitant captain. So to save his partner's life, Jim quickly took preventive action, tugging on his sleeve to propel him toward the door. "We're friends," Jim said simply, knowing that Simon would prefer the manly approach rather than Sandburg's touchy/feely one. "We'd better hit it, Sandburg," Jim ordered, ushering him from Simon's office. He glanced back, and Simon gave him a knowing smile. He nodded in response and headed to his desk, where he fired up his computer and sat, staring thoughtfully at the screen for several minutes before he said, "Chief?"
"Uh hmm?" Blair replied, his eyes glued to the file he was reading.
"You are really excited about this wedding."
Blair lifted his head, turning his chair toward Jim. "Yeah. I think it's great. Ceremonies are always necessary for the survival of any culture, Jim. A wedding is one of the ways that society proves that it will continue to move forward. There will be bonding and children. It's all good."
Jim nodded thoughtfully before he asked, "But what about... us? There won't be any -- offspring."
Blair smiled. "No, but we still make a valuable contribution to our tribe. We protect the weak, and we contribute to the success of the economy by working, then spending the fruits of our labors to the benefit of ourselves and others. Just because we're not "married"," Blair made quotation marks in the air to emphasize his point, "doesn't mean we're not valued. That would mean that all single people would be unnecessary, and that's definitely not true." With a questioning glance, he asked, "Is there a reason you asked me this now?"
"No, just curious." Jim carefully watched while Blair nodded and returned to his work. He felt as if he had -- missed something important, and wasn't quite sure what it was. But he had asked, and if his partner felt that they needed something -- more in their relationship, that he wanted more of a commitment, he would have said. One thing Jim knew about Blair was that he wasn't shy about asking for what he needed from Jim as a partner, both on and off the force. Jim moved the discussion to the back burner for now, and returned to his work.
"Is there anything special you'd like for dinner tonight, Jim?" Blair asked while he put away the groceries he'd just carried in.
Jim paused on his way through the loft from a trip to the laundry room. Setting the basket on the dining table, he started to fold the clean clothes. "It's cold out, so I think something hot and gooey would be nice. I'm in the mood for something cheesy."
Blair chuckled. "How about mac and cheese? I bought a block of that sharp Cheddar you like on sale. And I have whole wheat noodles."
Jim smiled over at his partner. "That would be good. Did you get any broccoli?"
"Yeah. Two fresh stalks. You want some in the casserole?"
"You got it."
While Jim folded the clothes, Blair busied himself fixing dinner. Jim liked the sounds of his lover bustling around the kitchen, sometimes humming, sometimes talking to himself. He smiled, keeping one ear on the television, which he had switched on earlier, tuning in the evening news. He heard the drone of the announcer, but paid little attention to the actual words until Blair walked over to the coffee table and picked up the remote to turn up the volume. He stopped his folding to listen to what had grabbed Blair's attention.
Cascade Police today were searching for a driver who sped off after fatally striking an 84-year-old woman walking near Chambers Avenue early yesterday morning.
Paramedics found the woman seriously injured about 6:20 am. across the street from Starbucks at the intersection of Chambers Avenue and Prospect Street in the northwest suburb, Cascade Fire Battalion Chief, Jack Callahan said.
The woman, identified this morning as Emily Patterson, was pronounced dead shortly before noon Monday at Cascade General Hospital, a Bayside County medical examiner's office spokesman said.
An autopsy performed today on Patterson, of the 700 block of Chambers Avenue, showed that the victim died as a result of injuries sustained in the incident. There is a police investigation pending at this time. A Cascade police department representative declined to comment further on the crash investigation this afternoon.
Callahan said the vehicle fled from the scene. Mrs. Patterson was alone when she was struck in the crosswalk, he said, but could not provide further specifics.
Crimestoppers is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this offense. Call Crimestoppers at 1-800...
"Chief?" Jim asked, when Blair lowered the volume, his face suddenly pale. "Did you know the victim?"
"I don't think so, but..." Blair shrugged, setting the remote on the coffee table.
"But what?" Jim asked.
"It was that same thing from the other day. You know, that feeling. I got all -- twitchy for a second. Almost like a... I don't know, a warning, or at least a -- request to pay attention... Man, that's nuts," he said, running a hand through his hair.
Jim walked over to his partner and put a hand on each shoulder. "You are not nuts. Far from it. Your hunches are usually right on, especially since -- everything that happened. The Shaman stuff and all. And this crime is as important as any, so if you have a feeling about it, then I'm all ears."
Blair raised grateful eyes to look into Jim's face. "Gee, thanks. I appreciate that." Then he added playfully, "It's a relief that we both know I'm not crazy when this strange stuff happens."
Jim chuckled, pulling Blair in for a hug. He kissed the top of his lover's head. "Now, let's not go that far."
Blair pulled back, his mouth falling open. "You are such a dick."
Grinning, Jim said, "I know, but you love me anyway. Now how about dinner? I'm hungry enough to eat a horse."
"I'm working on it. Give a guy a break, would you?" Blair stepped from the circle of Jim's arms, giving him a quick kiss as he backed away. "Dinner will be ready in an hour, so you'd just better hold your horses instead of eating them."
Laughing, Jim ruffled Blair's hair. "Love you, Willie."
Blair raised an eyebrow. "Willie?"
"Willie Shoemaker? Horses? Jockey?" At Blair's blank look, Jim sighed and muttered, "Kids today..."
Blair sat at his desk, his hands loosely held in his lap. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was soft and regular. Jim walked over to Blair's desk and looked at the yellow pad that rested in front of him. At the top of the page were listed the names of the most recent victims of crime that had Blair's radar tingling: Roberto Martinez, Deana Swanson, Emily Patterson, Angela Bailey, Hector Smith, but as far as any other information, the page was devoid of notes. The only thing covering the page were tiny doodles of squiggles and pyramids, smiley faces, moon and stars, and -- Blair's initials intertwined with Jim's. Jim felt a flush of warmth travel through his body. God, but he loved this guy!
"Chief?" Jim said softly, placing a hand on Blair's shoulder.
"Oh, hey, Jim," Blair said, his eyes slowly opening. "Man, I just can't figure this out!"
Jim pulled his chair over and sat down. "That's because there's no real connection other than your hunches. Until we figure out what's going on, it's one big puzzle."
"Yeah, I know," Blair groused, running a hand through his hair, making the strands stand up from static electricity. Jim resisted the urge to touch the wayward curls, but he did grin at the mess. "What?" Blair asked. "I forgot to buy conditioner," he said with an exasperated sigh.
"I like it," Jim admitted, earning a roll of the eyes from his partner. "Chief, we've checked out the usual things. None of the victims seemed to know each other. They didn't work together, or go to church together, or belong to any of the same clubs or health spas. As far as we know, they've never met." At Blair's nod, he asked, "So what do we know?"
Ripping off the messy page, Blair started a new one. After making a neat list of the names, he wrote the number one in the margin. After thinking for a minute, he finally said, "Nothing."
"None of them had criminal records. That's something."
"True, but it doesn't tell us much. Different ages; different religions; different ethnic backgrounds. They all earned widely different incomes; lived all over town. Nobody had any of the others in their address books or in any emails. They were killed by different methods. I admit, as far as connecting them, I'm stumped."
"Maybe they're just what they seem -- random."
"Yeah, I guess," Blair admitted then he shook his head. "No. I don't buy that. I just know they're connected in some way. I need to figure out how."
"Then you keep at it. If anybody can figure it out, it's you."
"Thanks, Jim. That means a lot to me."
Jim leaned closer and said, "You mean a lot to me. But not as much as a Wonderburger would about now."
The jangling of the telephone had Jim groaning into his pillow. He pulled the covers over his head and listened while his partner answered the offensive item.
"Right. Okay. Got it. Thanks." Jim heard the small beep that indicated Blair had hit the 'off' button. "That was Dispatch, Jim."
"What time is it?"
"Yes," Blair said with a sigh.
"We have to roll?" Jim said from under the blankets.
Blair's quiet chuckle reached his ears. "What do you think, Jim?"
"I think we're missing breakfast again."
"Right again, man. Come on, Kreskin."
Jim moved back a good two feet when Dan Wolf sneezed four times in quick succession into his handkerchief. "Bless you."
"Sorry," Wolf wheezed. "This cold is hanging tough."
Blair said sympathetically, "I have some stuff my mom sends me that you could try."
Dan looked at Blair suspiciously. "Is that the same stuff that sent Jim into a hallucinatory fit? He saw ghosts, didn't he?"
Blair gave Jim a quick glance before he said to Dan, "You shouldn't listen to the bullpen gossip, Dan. You know how those guys exaggerate."
Nodding, Dan laughed. "They do like to tell a story." He looked the detectives over momentarily before he asked, "Why are you guys answering this call? I thought you had a bunch of cases you were working right now? Does Simon have it in for you both?"
"Nah," Blair said. "We asked to be called out on any murders for the next few days."
"Oh?" Dan said, looking curious.
Jim nodded. "It's true. Blair's working an angle on all of the cases, and he needs more data," Jim offered, earning him an interested look from Morelli. "He's an anthropologist first and a detective second, Morelli. He likes examining the human species and all its quirks."
"That's really great!" Derek replied. "I like anthro myself."
Blair brightened. "Cool. Maybe we can talk over coffee one of these days." A stern glance from Jim had Blair returning to his duties. "What do we have?" he asked, cocking his head toward the house that was now lit up like a Christmas tree. Every light in the house was on, illuminating the yard brightly.
"It's a bad one, Blair," Dan said. "Home invasion. Somebody kicked in the front door."
"Victims?" Jim asked.
"Two," Derek supplied. "Mother and son."
"Shit," Blair said with a sigh. "A little kid?"
Shaking his head, Wolf looked at his clipboard. "Christine Scully, age 64, and her son, Harold, aged 42. Shotgun wounds to the body on both vics. They died quickly. The woman's body is in the living room, and the son is in the hallway."
"Witnesses?" Blair asked.
"Patrol is canvassing the neighborhood now," Derek offered. "They'll take any statements, and we'll let you know."
Jim glanced toward the house. "Anything missing?"
Wolf shrugged. "There hasn't been enough time to do any sort of inventory that I know of. We need to find the next-of-kin to be sure of something like that, but the place is trashed. Could be a robbery gone bad. The television and stereo are still there, though, but they're a cheaper brand." Glancing from Blair to Jim, Dan added, "Actually, I didn't notice much of value in the house at all, so I'll leave the whys and whos of this one to you guys."
"Let's go and check it out, Jim."
"Blair, it's pretty bad," Dan warned.
"Thanks, Dan, but you know Jim and I have to do this."
Dan gave Blair a sympathetic nod. "I know. Talk to you later."
"Right," Jim said. "Chief." He led the way, scanning as he walked up the sidewalk with his partner beside him. "Anything?" he asked softly.
"Do you know how strange is it for you to be asking me if I sense anything?" Blair muttered before he admitted, "Not yet- " Jim followed quietly, not at all surprised when Blair paused halfway up the porch steps. He turned back toward Jim and said, "Well, fuck. Yeah. It's -- here. Whatever the hell it is."
"Okay. Let me know if it changes in intensity." Blair gave Jim a funny look. "What? That's what you told me to do, and it worked. Might work for you."
Blair gave Jim a half-hearted smile. "Thanks, man."
Jim nodded, and led his partner into the house. While Jim could smell the blood from outside, when the door opened, the scent slammed into him full force. He almost gagged, pausing to breathe in and out heavily.
"Are you okay?"
"Give me a sec."
"God, Jim. Even I can smell the blood."
"Shotguns are messy, Blair."
"I know," he said quietly. "Come on. Let's get this over with."
Since there was nothing more they could do at the scene, Jim gave detailed instructions to the forensics unit regarding the collection of evidence before the two weary men headed home.
The water pounded against Jim's back, making his skin twitch with pleasure. He loved a nice, hot shower, and a shower with Blair was even more enjoyable. With his hands buried in his lover's hair, he massaged Blair's scalp firmly, just the way he liked it. Blair stood with his legs firmly planted, head back, making small sounds of appreciation while Jim's fingers worked their magic.
With a contented sigh, Blair murmured, "God, Jim. That feels so good!"
"I want you to feel good." Jim smiled, moving away to let the water rinse the shampoo from Blair's long locks. He used his hand to be sure the hair was thoroughly rinsed before he squirted a dollop of conditioner into the center of his hand and rubbed lightly, spreading the silky liquid on his palms. Caressing Blair's hair lovingly, Jim spread the conditioner, enjoying the feel of the clean hair in his hands. When Blair handed him a comb, Jim chuckled and gently combed the conditioner through his hair, ensuring an even coating.
Jim dropped the comb on the shower floor before pulling Blair back against his chest. "Have to let it sit for at least three or four minutes to get the best results," Jim whispered into Blair's ear while he rinsed his hand in the shower's spray.
"Uh hmmm," Blair agreed, his body relaxed against Jim's, making Jim laugh at Blair's responses to his caresses.
Jim kissed Blair's ear before reaching down to snag a small bottle that rested on the edge of the tub. He popped the top and took a moment to pour a little of the scented oil into his palm before he tugged Blair back against his chest. Kissing the side of his lover's face, Jim's hand gasped Blair's cock and stroked, spreading the lubricant. The scent of the strawberry lube made Jim's senses dance happily. He grinned as Blair sucked in a quick breath, and thrust his hips forward. Jim turned Blair in his arms to face him, his hand firmly holding the growing column of flesh. Kissing Blair's wet lips, he pleasured his lover, each stroke eliciting tiny whimpers from the back of Blair's throat. Grinning into the kiss, Jim jacked the thick cock until Blair's fingers were scrambling for hold on Jim's wet biceps and he was spurting come onto Jim's leg.
Lazy eyes gazed into Jim's. "Oh, God. Nice, man. Really nice," Blair said softly, a smile playing on his lips. "Love sex in the shower with you." After he gave Jim a quick kiss and another loving smile, he stepped back to rinse the conditioner from his hair, humming happily.
Jim enjoyed the view, watching while Blair closed his eyes and tipped his head back, a smile gracing his face. The wet chest hair captured tiny drops of water, and Jim reached out to flick droplets from Blair's nipples. He liked the way Blair's mouth dropped open and a small gasp of pleasure escaped. With meandering fingers, Jim played with Blair's chest hair and belly button until Blair moved forward a small step out of the shower's spray. He reached back and squeezed his hair between his hands, removing some of the excess moisture before he glanced into Jim's face.
"My turn," Blair murmured, falling to his knees and planting a hand on each of Jim's thighs. Looking up, he gave Jim a lecherous smile before opening his mouth and sucking the head of Jim's cock into his mouth.
Jim's mouth fell open and his hands searched for purchase in Blair's clean hair. He gasped when Blair moved forward, taking in most of Jim's shaft. Humming happily, Blair tickled the underside with his tongue. Jim let out a small moan of pleasure when Blair started a gentle rhythm, letting the firm flesh move in and out of his mouth slowly, giving Jim the time to enjoy the feelings.
Jim shifted his hips gently, taking care not to choke his lover. With Blair's hands encouraging his movement, Jim picked up the pace just a bit, using the inviting mouth at his pleasure until his knees started to shake. When Blair's hand moved across his ass and a finger breached his opening, he let out a small cry and came into his lover's mouth.
Blair sucked until Jim was spent. He released the soft organ with a grin, and rose. Jim returned the grin, kissing his lover's soft lips, tasting himself on the warm flesh.
"I love you, Blair."
"Me, too. Love you, Jim. So much!"
Jim pulled Blair into his arms and they held each other for a long moment before Jim finally released him. "Breakfast?"
"Yeah," Blair agreed, turning off the taps. He grabbed several towels from the nearby pile and handed Jim one before he wrapped one around his head and another around his body. "I'm starving!"
Jim chuckled as he dried off. "You're always hungry." He stepped from the shower and donned jeans, a t-shirt, socks, and pulled a sweater over his head. Jim brushed his hair and teeth while Blair dressed. Then he moved out of the way so that his lover could do the same.
"I'll go and start coffee," Jim said, leaning over to give Blair a loud smack on the cheek.
Grinning, Blair nodded. "Be done in a sec. Then I'll help."
Jim patted Blair's jeans-clad butt before he left to start breakfast. When Blair joined him, they fixed scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and juice, and sat down together. While they ate, Blair reached over and pulled the pile of mail toward him. He split the pile in half and pushed half toward Jim.
"We haven't read the mail in a week. It's getting out of hand."
Jim took a sip of his orange juice before he said, "Most of it is probably junk anyway. We'll just toss it."
Chewing on his toast, Jim nodded. "Right. Recycle it."
Blair rolled his eyes, reaching for another envelope while Jim grinned. When Blair held up the letter to look at the return address, Jim heard Blair's heart suddenly kick into overdrive. With his toast halfway to his mouth, Jim asked, "Chief?"
Jim looked at the business size white envelope. The return address said, "Fourth Judicial District Court, 359 Federal Boulevard, Cascade, Washington 95699." "Yeah, so? It's from the court. What, did you get a ticket?"
"No, dickhead. Not the return address, the stamp in the lower left hand corner. The red letters." Blair held up the envelope for Jim to look at again, pointing with his finger.
Jim read the stamp. "Important! Juror Notice. Do not discard."
"A jury, Jim. It's a jury!"
"What if all of the victims we've had so far were all jurors on the same case?"
Jim paused for a moment before he slowly nodded and said, "Well, I'll be damned. That could be it."
Simon strode into the tactical room and stood, hands on hips. "What's going on?" he asked.
Blair shuffled a couple of papers from one pile to another. "We're working."
"Why haven't you two passed on the home invasion to Brown and Rafe? There's no way you have time to devote to six murders."
"Seven," Jim muttered, glancing up from the file he had in his hands. Before Simon had him a chance to ream him a new one, he held a sheet of paper out toward his boss. "Take a look at this, sir."
Simon glanced down the sheet for a moment before he looked up. "Is this what I think it is?"
Blair nodded excitedly. "Yeah, we finally did it!"
"Blair finally did it," Jim offered, proudly smiling at his partner.
"How so?" Simon asked.
"I got a jury notice in the mail this morning. Blair and I had a feeling the cases were connected, but we just couldn't figure out how. Look," Jim said excitedly, handing Simon another paper, this time a photocopy of a news article.
Blair added, "I had a hunch, so we followed it up."
"And?" Simon asked.
"The missing link was jury duty. We'd checked everything else -- no connection, but twenty-two years ago, Alphonso Morelli was tried and convicted of six counts of murder, two courts of extortion, five for money laundering, and three for kidnapping."
Simon took a seat. "Go on."
"Every one of these people were on the jury that convicted Morelli. They sentenced him to death. Washington State offers lethal injection and hanging. He chose lethal injection, and after eleven years of appeals, he was finally executed," Blair explained.
"And he left behind," Jim went on, "a wife and five children."
"Wait," Simon interrupted, holding up a hand. "Why does the name Morelli sound familiar?"
"Because," Blair said, "Derek Morelli is working in our Forensics department."
Simon's eyes widened. "What?"
Jim nodded. "After the execution, the family moved east."
"Don't tell me," Simon said, rubbing his forehead. "New York City."
"Bingo," Blair quipped, earning him a glare from Simon.
"I made a few phone calls," Jim said. "I spoke with one of the siblings of Derek Morelli. At first, he didn't want to speak to me, but when I explained that it might be helpful to his brother, he finally admitted that Derek had a huge falling out with the family about three years ago.
"That's when their mother passed away. The brother said that Derek kind of -- snapped. His words, not mine. He explained that their mother drilled into the children for years and years that the police planted all the evidence against their father, and that he was an innocent man. Which wasn't the least bit true. The DA had at least six witnesses against Morelli, including an undercover FBI agent who Morelli personally tortured, plus a slew of evidence. Reggie said most of the kids understood what their father was really like, and that their mother was a bitter woman, but Derek always believed every word she said.
"Once she passed away, Reggie said Derek seemed adrift for a while, but then he seemed to find some purpose to his life. He never told Reggie what that purpose was, but he finally admitted that he did think that his brother might be unstable. He also said he hadn't seen or heard from Derek since the big family blow up."
Simon nodded slowly, looking as if his stomach was churning from the sour expression on his face. Jim said, "There was no way for you to know, Simon. When they ran the background check on Morelli, he passed. The fact that Alphonso Morelli was his father didn't show up. No saying how that happened. Maybe a bribe, or he called in a favor. Anyway, he is -- was clean. No record. And he's been working for the NYC forensics department for three years with a commendable work record."
"What do you think is going on?"
Blair tapped his pencil on the desk, earning him a glare from Simon, before he said, "I think he's been planning this for three years. He found out what we found out. After all, once he started working for the police department, he had access the same as we do. He ran the names of the twelve jurors, and discovered that over the years, seven had passed away."
At Simon's stunned expression, Jim hurriedly explained, "We don't think he killed those seven! He was a child during some of the years when a juror died, and the others weren't suspicious. Traffic accident, cancer, suicide, and four from natural causes related to age."
"What do we have now?"
Jim leaned forward. "We have seven bodies. We have the last juror, Daniel Grafton, alive in a nursing home here in Cascade. And Blair and I have a plan."
"Now why don't I want to hear this?" Simon groused. "Hang on. Seven already dead, plus our seven vics. Not counting the one in the nursing home, by my calculations, that makes fourteen. I know I'm not quick on the up and up sometimes, but there were only twelve jurors."
Blair also looked sick when he said, "Jim and I feel that of our seven victims, three were -- collateral damage as they say." He paused, sighing and shaking his head before he continued. "The first vic, Bobby Martinez, was killed to set up the second one, Deana Swanson, as victims of a carjacking gang. And he didn't care if we realized that it wasn't a carjacking after the intended target was killed, because by that time, he'd moved onto another victim, and another method of murder. The questions he left for us were dead ends, and he knew it."
"In the fancy store in the Heights, Smith was the target. The girl was in the way!" Jim exclaimed angrily. This guy doesn't care who gets in his way as long as his goals are met. I want this bastard, Simon. We want him."
"Patterson," Simon asked, glancing at Blair's list, "the hit and run?"
"Not an accident, sir," Jim said. "She was a member of the jury. And the home invasion was the same deal. He wanted Christine Scully dead, and the son was in the way. He probably tried to protect his mother. No witnesses, no problems." Jim leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, a scowl on his face.
"But there are witnesses. The sales girl. The woman at the rental agency," Simon reminded him.
Blair held out his hands. "He was after specific targets. Those witnesses didn't recognize him, nor did they try to stop him. He wasn't interested in killing anyone who had no connection with his father's case unless they interfered with his 'mission'."
Simon slowly nodded. "How did you figure this out? There's no evidence linking any of the crimes as far as I can tell from these forensics reports."
Jim glanced at his partner, and as their eyes met, he gave him a comforting smile. "Blair had tingles." Simon's eyebrows hit his hairline. "More than once. Sorry, Simon. You asked. That's how we figured it out."
"You'll leave that out of your report," Simon firmly requested.
"Yes, sir," Blair answered.
"Okay," Simon said, "so what is this plan of yours?"
Jim sat up. "This is what we thought..."
The wig itched. Jim twitched minutely, and resisted the urge to reach up and scratch. Remember. You're Daniel Grafton, an elderly man who's paralyzed, he admonished himself. He could be watching this very moment. Still, the adhesive that held the fake hair in place irritated his skin, and Jim knew he'd have red marks along his forehead when he could finally get out of the disguise. He sighed, resigned to being uncomfortable for a while. The pajamas were soft enough. Thankfully, he had the foresight to bring his own, as well as a pair of slippers and a robe, but the wheelchair in which he sat was not the most comfortable seat he'd ever occupied. Before he could stop himself, Jim sneezed. It was the damned makeup, he knew, but the disguise had to be good enough to fool Morelli. The man wasn't a pro, but he was smart. So far, he'd managed to kill seven people, and of those seven, three were killed just because they happened to be in his way. If Jim didn't play his own part smartly, he could be number eight. He chided himself firmly. People were dead, so a little bit of discomfort was a small price to pay to nail this bastard.
The wheelchair had been placed in its usual nightly position, facing the window with the curtains pushed back, so as not to arouse suspicion. There had been reports of a man inquiring after the surviving juror, and Blair had been sure tonight was when he'd make his move. When Jim had asked him how he could be so certain, Blair had simply said, "I threw the bones." Jim had rolled his eyes, and trusting Blair's instincts, didn't any any more questions.
It was December twenty-ninth, and Blair explained that Morelli would want all the loose ends tied up before the new year. So as not to feel rushed in case he needed a second attempt, Blair figured he'd make his move tonight. Then Morelli could go into the new year with his goals accomplished. Make a clean start. Blair's insight had made him physically sick when he had explained it to Jim. And Jim, trusting his guide completely, immediately agreed, telling Simon that if Blair felt this was it, then this was it.
Simon made a forceful argument that they couldn't spend time and resources setting up a trap on a hunch, but after a few minutes of vociferous protests, he nodded in agreement and got on the phone to set things in motion. The patients and staff had been moved out of harm's way, and Simon and Blair were in position two doors away in a vacated room, surveillance equipment at the ready. Rafe and Brown were dressed as orderlies, but told to lay low and to be ready if and when Simon called them out.
Darkness had fallen, and as passing cars traveled down the road on the other side of the wide lawn, the headlights danced off the wet pavement, while the raindrops that fell around the street lights sparkled with the lights' reflections as they raced toward their goal.
Jim watched the traffic move up and down the street for a few moments and wondered if Grafton enjoyed the change of colors, and the blink of the lights as cars traveled past. Jim hoped that Grafton found something pleasurable in life. He gave a small shiver at the thought of living the way this older man did. Grafton had been felled by a stroke several years ago, and it had rendered him unable to move or to speak, but he was able to see and hear. Jim briefly wondered how it must feel to be trapped inside one's body and unable to ask for the simplest of life's comforts.
Tamping down the morbid thoughts, he turned back to his duties, conducting a quick scan of the hallway. All was quiet. He focused sharply, and from down the hall, he could hear the whispers of Blair and Simon. Tuning them out, he could also hear the soft breathing of Rafe, who was stationed somewhere down the hall, out of sight, he assumed. Brown was at the other end, and from the sound of Henri's grumbling, he was in a broom closet, and not very comfortable. Jim smiled at the thought.
Darkness reached into the corners of the room in which Jim was currently waiting, something he'd purposefully arranged. The single forty watt bulb that burned in the lamp on the bedside table was dim enough to afford more cover for him. It kept him in the shadows, and he hoped that it made his disguise look more authentic. With any luck, Morelli would make his move soon, and the trap would be sprung.
The tape that held the wire that Jim wore under his shirt started to itch. He chewed on his lower lip. Now he was feeling the wig's adhesive and the tape. Damn it anyway. He'd forgotten about his latex allergy, and belatedly, he wondered if the small piece of tape that held the wireless microphone in place was made of latex. Too late now, he thought, sighing again.
He knew the intended victim was safe; he was confident that one of Brown's innumerable cousins, who was a makeup artist over at WCDE, did an adequate job of turning him into Grafton. Now all he had to do was wait. When Morelli made his move, Jim would be ready. Tonight, hopefully, they would catch the bastard in the act. Jim clenched his fists. They had to catch him in the act, because the evidence tying Morelli to the murders of the jury members was nonexistent. They had no physical evidence. The hair he'd recovered from the Ferrari wasn't a DNA match. They didn't find the weapons used in the carjackings or in the store robbery. They didn't recover the shotgun used in the home invasion. The car that hit and killed Patterson hadn't, to date, been found. The only chance of locking this murderer up was to catch him in the act of committing a crime, or to get an admission or a confession on tape. Clenching his hands into fists, Jim grimaced. He hoped he would have the chance to grab the asshole and pound him into a spot on the rug...
Reason intruded. Blair wouldn't like the idea, and Jim knew it wasn't a smart move. It left too many avenues for Morelli to cry police brutality and to garner sympathy from a jury, or the press, or both. Jim would be damned if he'd contribute to that! He pulled in a deep breath and slowly exhaled, uncurling his hands to let them rest loosely in his lap. It took a lot of concentration not to move a muscle and to wait patiently. Jim told himself that he had to remember to play his part when Morelli showed up. He had to give the man enough rope to hang himself. Everything he said would be recorded, and the small camera hidden in a potted plant that rested on the bureau would catch the murderer in the act. There must not be any chance for him to slip through the cracks; their bust had to be airtight. All Jim had to do was give the man time enough to expose himself as the murdering bastard he was. Then Jim would strike...
From behind him, Jim heard the door swoosh softly as it was pushed open. He steeled himself. Show time!
"Good evening, Mr. Grafton," a woman's voice called. Puzzled, Jim almost turned his head, but at the last moment, he froze, unwilling to blow his cover. He had no idea who the woman was, but all of the staff had been moved away from the scene of the set-up. She needed to be removed immediately before Morelli was scared off his target. He quickly considered ordering her to leave, but just as quickly dismissed the idea when he remembered that Blair and Simon could hear everything. They would surely rush in and lead her away before Morelli sensed a trap. Or maybe Simon would make the call to let her do whatever duty she had come to perform, and wait for her to leave. Either way, Morelli could possibly be scared off if he sensed anything out of order. Returning his focus to the woman's chatter, he heard her say, "I'll bet you are tired sitting in that old chair! And I also bet that by now you need a change." Jim stiffened. No way was he going to let some stranger attempt to change his -- diaper!
As he stared at the rug in front of him, Jim saw the woman enter his line of sight. He kept his head bent, not moving, only able to see her from about mid-chest down, when the woman grasped the arms of the wheelchair and with a hand on either side, she leaned close to his ear and said menacingly, "You are going to die tonight, Grafton."
Startled, Jim never moved a muscle, but the pure hate he heard in her voice made him cringe internally, and the words made his blood run cold. She, whoever she was, was the -- killer? Surely, Simon and Blair heard her speak, and by now, they realized that while the hit was going down, the killer was now somebody unknown to them. Simon and Blair were smart, and they wouldn't rush in too soon, he knew. Still, he was shocked that they had been so wrong about who the killer actually was.
The hands holding the wheelchair trembled, making the chair shake. Jim realized it wasn't from fear, but from rage. When she spoke again, Jim almost flinched at the venom in her voice when she said, "You killed my father, and now you will burn in hell." He couldn't help but let his eyes roll upward, and he barely had a chance to glance into her face, a face distorted with rage and hate, before she moved out of his line of sight.
Before Jim had a chance to take another breath, he heard a small click and felt a quick stab on the side of his neck. Caught by surprise, it was too late when he realized that it was a hypodermic gun, and he'd been injected with something he was sure was going to be quite unpleasant. Her aim was true. She'd hit his jugular, and he could actually feel whatever had been injected into his body quickly dissipate with each beat of his heart. Firm hands clamped down on his shoulders from behind, and the woman's voice hissed, "Now you will pay, you bastard. I've waited years for this. You ruined my family."
Jim's heart thudded in his chest and his first instinct was to lurch away from the touch and cry out, but when he tried to move, his entire body felt heavy and limp. Oblivious now to the need to remain undercover, he started to panic. Jim tried to rise, but even though the thought was clear in his mind, there was no response from his own body.
Suddenly, Jim felt his muscles twitch before they started to convulse. He wanted to open his mouth to scream, but his jaw seemed wired shut. Breathing became more difficult as each second passed. His mind screamed for help -- for Blair, but his body betrayed him. The hands digging into his shoulders shoved him hard, and he pitched forward, landing on the floor face first with a painful thud. Lying sprawled out, muscles convulsing, eyes wide, Jim heard the woman's voice clearly, his brain active and alert even as his body remained unresponsive. "This is for my father. For Alphonso Morelli. You killed him. You broke my mother's heart! She never recovered. I hope you remember what you did to him, to them, and that you burn in hell!" she screamed.
In last few seconds before he passed out from asphyxiation, realization dawned. He was being killed with a drug he was very familiar with, he was experiencing what it felt for Grafton each day of his life, and he was going to miss Blair like crazy.
The first thing Jim did when his eyes opened was to ask, "Did you get him?"
"Jim! You're awake!" Blair's face entered his line of sight as he blinked several times.
"What the hell happened?" Jim demanded. "Who was that woman? Was it Morelli in drag?"
"Jim, slow down! Take it easy." Blair caught his flailing hand and laced his fingers with Jim's. "One thing at a time. First, how do you feel?"
Jim let out a quick huff of breath before he nodded. "Sorry."
"Hey, it's okay," Blair said, rubbing the back of Jim's hand soothingly. "You're going to be fine, although you scared the shit out of me for a few minutes there."
Jim rubbed his free hand across his eyes. "My head hurts."
"No wonder. She dosed you with curare."
"Yeah, I remember. Who was she?"
"Yes. Julia Morelli. She was the hit man. Well, the hit woman. They were working as a team. He used his connections with the police department to locate the jurors; then she took over. He also played with the evidence so that nothing ever quite matched up."
"Nothing like a family who plays together," Jim said tiredly. "Sometimes it makes you want to cry."
"No shit," Blair muttered. "You can hear the whole story later, Jim. Right now, you need to rest."
"But they're both in custody?" Jim prodded.
Blair sighed. "Yes, Jim. After we nabbed the sister, Derek didn't resist arrest. He was waiting down the block, and when the ambulance and backup showed, he waltzed right up to a patrol officer and gave himself up. In fact, Simon called just a while ago and said they both confessed to their crimes without much protest. Waived their rights and spilled their guts. Simon said they were even -- proud of what they did. People like that scare me." Giving Jim a stern look, Blair ordered, "Now rest!"
"Saving my life."
"What makes you think that?"
Jim smiled. "Call it a hunch. You must have been a bit -- upset when you heard what was going down."
"That's an understatement!" Simon called from the open doorway.
"Hey, Simon!" Blair said. "Come on in. Jim's awake."
Simon crossed the room, chuckling. "You're kidding. I'd never have guessed."
Blair grinned, shrugging. "He's doing well."
"You should have seen the kid, Jim. He never missed a beat. While Rafe grabbed the woman, Blair took care of you. He had you on your back and was giving you CPR before I could move! He was a real trooper. Reminded me of when you did the same for him." At Jim's glare, Simon shrugged. "What? He knows how you saved his life, so now he's reciprocated. There were two staff doctors on call last night taking care of the patients we'd moved to the upper floor. Brown ran and got one of them, but Sandburg wouldn't let anybody else put a lip lock on you until the doctor got one of those CPR masks, and between him and Sandburg, they made sure you kept breathing until we got you to the hospital. The ER doctors flushed that shit out of your system as quickly as they could, and made sure you were out of the woods before they unhooked the ventilator. So how do you feel, by the way?"
Jim gave his partner a grateful smile. "He's pretty useful," he said with his gaze locked on Blair's before turning to Simon and adding, "I feel okay. Just a bit tired."
With a relieved smile, Blair said, "So... You'd better get some rest. Simon, you'd better get a move-on. You have a date in," Blair glanced at his watch, "six hours."
Simon laughed. "I have plenty of time. I just wanted to make sure Jim was okay."
With his hand on Jim's arm, Blair said, "He's going to be fine. Thank God."
Jim looked from Blair to Simon and back. "Hang on. What time is it?"
"It's almost noon," Blair answered.
"I need to get out of here. There's no way I'm missing Simon's wedding!"
"Whoa! Jim, man, you are not leaving this bed! You've just been on a ventilator for six hours! You need to rest. Simon and Amy understand why you can't be there, and after I run over and make sure everything's okay, I'll come back and sit with you."
Jim glared. "Chief, I helped plan this wedding, and I'm not missing it. I'll go in a damned wheelchair if I have to!"
"What?" Jim said with surprise in his voice, his eyes wide. "No way! You tricked me!"
Blair rose and stood, hands on hips. "You said you'd go in a wheelchair! I agreed. And trust me on this, Ellison, when I say, that is the only way you're getting out of this bed!"
Jim crossed his arms. Blair crossed his in response. Simon quietly slipped out of the door.
"Coward," Jim groused at Simon's retreating back. "Thanks for the backup!" he called out to his disappearing friend. A large black hand waved in the air only to quickly vanish as the door closed.
"Do we have a deal?"
Jim sighed and nodded. "Where are my clothes?"
"I'll help you get dressed, then we'll put that cute butt of yours in a wheelchair, and I'll take you home to rest until just before the ceremony."
"Blair!" Jim whined. "I'm fine!"
"And I'm in charge. You will do as I say," Blair said firmly.
With another sigh, Jim finally nodded. "My head does kind of hurt," he said softly.
Blair smiled and leaned over, kissing Jim's temple. "God, Jim. I was so scared."
"Come here, Chief." Jim pulled Blair into his arms and they clung to each other for a long minute before Jim kissed Blair's forehead. "Love you."
"Yeah. Me too, Jim. Love you so much."
Blair pushed the wheelchair alongside the white chairs that were arranged in a semi-circle in front of a backdrop of a silver trellis decorated with fragrant red and white carnations, silver ribbons, and strands of tiny white lights. Candles burned in silver holders around the room, and the fragrant flowers scented the air. Jim took in the scene before him as Blair pushed, and nodded approvingly. When Blair finally stopped by a row of chairs and put a hand under Jim's elbow, he rose and slid into a seat. With a glance at his lover, who smiled down at him before he pushed the chair out of the aisle, Jim returned the smile with one of his own. He was feeling too good right now to pout about having to come in the wheelchair. One of his best friends was getting married, and Jim was happy to be alive to witness the happy occasion. Besides, he'd made a deal, and he always stuck to his promises.
After Blair pushed the wheelchair to the back of the room out of the way, he returned to where Jim sat, taking a seat next to him.
"Everything looks great, Chief," Jim said quietly. "You guys did a wonderful job."
Blair grinned. "Thanks, Jim. Everybody worked hard this afternoon. I'm glad it looks nice for Simon and Amy."
"It does. I know they'll be pleased." Jim smiled, gratified when Blair shifted a bit closer so that their bodies touched. He enjoyed being close to his lover for a few moments before he glanced around, nodding to his co-workers and a few other friends that were waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Simon and Daryl, his best man, walked past Jim and took their places next to the minister, who stood patiently waiting in front of the arbor. Jim watched Simon and Daryl, who both fidgeted. They look great, he thought.
Simon had on a black suit with a silver tie, while Daryl had on a grey suit with a tie of the same color. Both men had red carnations on their lapels. Jim smiled, knowing how nervous Simon must be. Simon glanced around, and when his gaze found Jim's, Jim grinned. Simon seemed surprised for a moment before he smiled back at Jim, and he gave him a nod.
When the strains of music began, Jim turned his head, watching Amy's maid of honor walk down the center aisle. He had met Amy's friend once before at the station, and he thought she looked very pretty in her red dress, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember her name. Amy followed, looking very beautiful in a silver gown, carrying a bouquet of white and red flowers. Tiny sparkles danced before Jim's eyes when the cloth of Amy's dress moved as she walked, which he thought was very interesting. He'd never seen dress material quite like that before, and he could have easily zoned on the sparkles, but he didn't want to give Blair any reason to send him home early to rest, so he kept his senses under control.
"Nice dress," he whispered to Blair, who looked at him like he'd grown two heads. "What?" he added, "I noticed." Blair just gave him a mildly exasperated grin and patted his knee.
The minister started the ceremony, and while Jim listened to the words, he watched Blair intently. Blair's gaze was riveted on Simon and Amy, and he leaned forward slightly, as if he could get closer if he leaned just far enough. For a moment, Jim wondered about Blair's apparent fascination with the ceremony, when a thought zipped through his brain. He remembered that incident a few weeks ago when they had been talking about marriage and families and kids. Blair wanted something then, and now Jim knew what it was. He wanted permanence. And Jim would give it to him. Yes, they had a committed relationship, but Blair was first and foremost, an anthropologist. Ceremonies and customs were important to him. With any luck, Jim could do what he needed to do tomorrow, New Year's Eve day, so that he could start Blair's new year with a bang.
Reaching over, Jim took Blair's hand in his. Blair turned his head toward Jim, a look of surprise on his face. Jim shrugged and laced their fingers together. At the gesture, Blair gave Jim such a dazzling smile that he was almost breathless from the beauty of it. Jim knew that he'd reached the right conclusion, and he knew what to do. Content, he returned his attention to the ceremony, holding Blair's hand in his and enjoying the moment.
"Happy New Year, Chief." Jim leaned down and kissed his lover on the forehead.
Blair stirred, eyes opening slowly. "Happy New Year, Jim," Blair murmured, rubbing his eyes. "You're up already? I thought you were sleeping in this morning."
"Blair, it's ten thirty. I think that constitutes sleeping in."
"Ten thirty! Wow. I must have been tired." Blair sat up and stretched.
"I made breakfast." Jim turned and retrieved the tray he'd carried up and sat on the dresser before he woke his lover. "Blueberry waffles, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee."
"Oh, man. It smells wonderful!"
Jim set the tray down on the bed and carefully maneuvered himself onto the mattress with the tray between he and his lover.
"Jim, there's only one dish."
"I'm feeding you."
Blair laughed. "You are?"
"Yup." Jim cut a piece of waffle and using his fingers, he held it out for Blair.
Blair's eyes widened before they narrowed, the blue almost disappearing. He leaned forward and slowly took Jim's fingers into his mouth. Murmuring appreciatively, he took the morsel and licked Jim's fingers with his tongue. Jim sucked in a quick breath, his body responding to the suggestive motion.
"At this rate, we'll never eat," Jim muttered, making Blair laugh.
"My turn." Blair picked up a chunk of scrambled eggs and offered it to Jim, who returned the favor, eating from Blair's fingers.
Laughing, the men fed each other, dropping food and laughing until the food was eaten and the sheet was a mess.
"Jim, man, if you want more, I think we'd better go down and eat at the table before we end up with blueberry syrup in our ears."
Jim let out a bark of laugher. "But it was fun."
"Yeah, it was. But I'm still hungry, and I need to pee."
"What a romantic," Jim groused.
Still laughing, Blair slipped out of bed. He leaned down and kissed Jim's lips. "Yum. You taste good." With a grin, he picked up the tray and headed down the stairs, calling, "How are you feeling?"
"Good," Jim called out. "I'll be down in a sec."
Jim listened for a moment while Blair placed the tray on the kitchen counter before going into the bathroom. With a contented sigh, Jim slipped from the bed and went to his dresser, removing the small blue box from the top drawer. He slipped the box into the pocket of his robe and went downstairs to wait for his lover. When Blair emerged from the bathroom, Jim met him halfway. With a smile, he said, "Hold out your hand, Chief." When Blair did as bid, Jim placed the blue box in his palm.
"What's this? You already gave me a Christmas gift. A very nice one, I might add."
"Open it." Jim suddenly felt -- awkward. "I hope -- it's okay."
"Jim, whatever it is, I'm sure it's more than okay- Jim! Oh, my God! Really?"
"No, I'm going to take them back right after you look at them." Jim cuffed Blair on the arm. "Of course, really."
Jim watched while Blair removed one of the two silver rings from their slot, and held it up. "It's inscribed." At Jim's nod, he read, "Blair - Always and forever - Jim. Oh, man. That's so... Jim!" Blair threw his arms around Jim. "This is great. Thank you."
"I love you, Chief. Wanted you to have it." Jim returned Blair's hug with a firm one of his own. "At Simon's wedding, you seemed almost sad... I know we can't get married legally, but I'd like for us to make it as legal as possible. Wills and everything. Okay?"
Blair moved back a step. "Yes. I'd like that. What does yours say?" he asked, looking at the matching ring.
"Nothing yet. I'm leaving that up to you. The jeweler will inscribe whatever you'd like."
"Will you put it on me?"
Jim grinned. He took the ring that Blair held out and slipped it onto his finger.
"Perfect! Now yours. I want to see how they look." Blair put the ring on Jim's finger. "It looks good."
Blair smiled. "This will be the best New Year's yet."
"I think so too. Happy New Year, Blair."
"Happy New Year, Jim."
Author's Notes: A special thanks to my friend, Ankaree, for all of her help and support. To Lyn, for her excellent beta work, and to Lisa, Annie and Ankaree for the fantastic art for this story. And let's not forget the wonderful crew at Thin Blue Line, who are all talented folks. --LilyK