Act III


The images on the computer screen flashed and changed as rapidly in the expert hands of the man sitting at the desk. A name and a display of personal information appeared on the left side of the screen…birth date…social security number…height and weight. The city of Cascade…a quadrant by the bay…an area of one square mile…three square city blocks…one…a street named Prospect and the home of James Joseph Ellison.

The cold-eyed man’s smile held no trace of warmth.

“Ellison,” he breathed.


Simon orders us all home. Micki is escorted to the station, with Vaslova anxious to start the interrogation immediately, but Micki’s in no condition for it. Bless Simon; he agrees to give her until morning to recover from the shock of having a second friend murdered before her eyes.

I’m exhausted by the time we return to the loft, ready to pile in bed, clothes and all. From the looks of Jim, he’s not in much better condition. He didn’t say a word on the ride in, and I didn’t push it, content to allow the silence to lie comfortably between us. Jim revealed so much in the time before the raid on the warehouse. After catching Micki red-handed, I’m certain he’s not in a talking mood.

I head for the bathroom, and when I emerge a few minutes later, I spot Jim, standing by the windows, staring outside. I wait a full minute, but he doesn’t turn, doesn’t acknowledge my presence at all. Finally, I give up and quietly move to stand beside him.

“What’s wrong, man?”

Without speaking, he hands me a single sheet of crisp, white paper. Neatly printed in black ink are the words:


Ellison,

I haven’t forgotten Peru. Have you?

Y.


That’s it. No full signature, no elaboration. Nothing.

Y…

Yuri…

The threat is unmistakably there. Lying unspoken, hidden beneath those innocent seven words is a threat real enough to send an unexpected shiver up my spine. I grab onto the doorframe, supporting myself until the weakness in my joints passes.

Jim turns and heads to the trunk where we keep the spare linens. “I’m sleeping on the couch tonight, Sandburg,” he states flatly, laying his gun on the coffee table as he passes by.

The sentinel’s personal territory - his home - has been invaded. I’m not surprised, and I’m more than a little relieved, that Jim will spend the night on guard outside the French doors to my room.

Taking a last look out into the black night, I turn and head to bed.

I hope the dawn is quick in coming.


Early the next day, a female officer stands nearby as Vaslova questions Micki, and we watch through the one-way glass of the interrogation room. The coldness of her tone makes me cringe. I don’t envy Micki.

“I do not know him,” she repeats wearily. “And if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

A bit of fire remains in those challenging eyes. Good for you, Micki.

I don’t understand Vaslova’s reply.

“On khotel ubit’ tebia.”

There’s no mistaking the venom in Micki’s voice. “He is my enemy. Who are you?”

“You think I am your enemy, too? I am a Russian trying to find the murderer of another Russian.”

Jim glances at Simon. “You’re letting her interrogate Micki alone?”

The captain shrugs slightly. “She thought she could get more out of her.”

Obviously, Jim disagrees with that assessment. “Bad move. She’s not getting a thing.”

We listen to what’s going on inside the interrogation room.

“Your father,” Vaslova says quietly. “He was political, right?”

“My father was in the camps, if that is what you mean. That is where he met Gordievsky.”

“And where did you meet him?”

No answer.

“It would be easier to speak Russian,” Vaslova points out. “Yet you prefer in English. Why?”

Micki retorts, “Russian in a police station brings back bad memories.”

Vaslova’s voice drips with anger. “Do you think that just because you live here and your friend is an American policeman that we cannot touch you or your family?” Her hand whips out, grasping Micki’s chin firmly. “How is your mother in Smolensk? Or your grandparents in Vilnius? Where will your American friend be when we visit them in the middle of the night?”

Micki’s tone is as cold as Vaslova’s was heated. Calmly, she orders, “Go…to…hell.”

Striking like a snake, Vaslova hits Micki hard across the face.

The sentinel springs into action. “That’s enough!” Jim tears out of the viewing room just as Micki stands and hits Vaslova back. Finally, the officer breaks in to separate the women, and I hurry into the room in time to hear Jim shouting.

“You! Outside right now!”

Vaslova apparently realizes it wise not to argue and storms from the room with Jim on her heels. Simon looks at me and I shrug. “Better go after them, man. Jim’s pretty pissed.”

We catch them around the corner. Jim and Vaslova are eye to eye, glaring at each other with equal fury.

“Just what the hell were you doing in there?”

“This is called interrogation, Detective!”

“I don’t know what kind of oppression goes on in the old country, but here, when you hit and threaten a suspect, it blows the case because they’ll file charges!”

Vaslova shakes her head emphatically. “She won’t do that.”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

“Because she won’t give me the satisfaction.” Vaslova’s voice drops into a low, forceful range. “To you, she is a hero. She came to this country looking for freedom. Well, let me tell you something, Detective. The heroes are not the ones that run away, but the ones who stay behind.”

Wow. Score one for the Russian inspector. Got a point there, Vaslova.

Simon interrupts the heated exchange. “All right, you two, knock it off.” He turns to Jim. “You go outside. Go on.” To Vaslova, he orders, “You take a walk and cool off.”

I can see the argument building in Jim’s eyes, but apparently he decides not to buck Simon on this one. Probably a wise choice, given Simon’s current frame of mind. Unsolved murders involving the feds and international ‘cooperation’ don’t exactly put the man in a positive frame of mind.

I follow Jim from the building, trying to decide whether or not to bring up an idea that’s been slowly forming since we found Yuri’s padded assassination suite. On the one hand, Jim’s in a pretty foul mood himself. On the other, maybe a change of topic is exactly what he needs. Anything besides Vaslova, right?

“Jim?” I ask tentatively. “I’ve been thinking about this Yuri guy.”

He waves me off. “Chief, I just need a little time right now, okay?”

Right. Interpreted from Jim-speak, that means ‘shut up, Sandburg.’ I ignore the warning. What the hell? How mad can he get?

“Jim, just listen to me. This is important.” I quicken my steps to match his long strides. That’s Jim. He gets upset, he attacks everything with more of a vengeance. Including walking. “Think about this, man. You’ve got your incredibly acute distance vision; Yuri’s got his scopes. You’ve got your night vision; he’s got night scopes. You’ve got your sentinel hearing; Yuri’s got radios and microphones, right?”

The monster-strides slow almost imperceptibly. Yes! Gotcha, Jim!

“What’s your point?”

Here comes the hard part. “Well, he’s a sentinel.”

One eyebrow quirks upward. “Oh, is that so?”

I can almost see Jim’s macho defenses rising. “Well, sort of, right? He extends his senses through technology, whereas yours are genetic.” I struggle for the right words. “He’s a…techno-sentinel.”

“Yeah,” Jim points out quickly, “I use mine to protect and serve people. He uses his to hunt and kill.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I concede. “Given, my analogy isn’t perfect, but in all predator combat, even with sentinels, there’s some ritual display.”

Jim stops at that, staring down at me in full concentration, but I see the clouds of doubt behind those blue eyes. “Is this going somewhere?”

Calmly, I explain, “Yeah. That’s why he didn’t explode that bomb last night, man. Why he spared your life. Why he didn’t plant another bomb in the loft or pick you off from the top of some high-rise when he had every opportunity. Because in some way, he recognizes you as an equal and that was his way of acknowledging it.”

“Yuri doesn’t know I’m a sentinel,” Jim points out reasonably.

“No, but he knew you in Peru. He knows how good you are, and apparently he came to respect you. He…”

Jim’s cell phone rings and he snaps it open. “Yeah?”

“Yuri,“ Jim mouths silently after a moment. He holds the phone out from his face and leans down so I can listen in.

<“I think the thing I miss most about Peru is the food. The trouble with Moscow is you just can’t find a good tortilla.”>

Oh, man. Where did he get Jim’s number? Dumb question. This guy’s a pro. Of course he knows the number. God only knows what else the bastard’s got on Jim.

<”It’s been a long time, Captain Ellison. I didn’t recognize you at first, but then, a man in jungle fatigues looks very different from one in a stylish leather coat. Also, you did not hang around with…how do you say it?…hippies?…in Peru.”>

Jim looks down at his black leather coat, then his eyes cut to me. I’m suddenly painfully aware of my long hair and rather…casual…appearance.

Yuri is watching us.

Jim surveys the rooftops, and it only takes him a moment to zero in on Yuri. Immediately, he maneuvers so that he is between me and the figure high on the building across the street. Covering the phone‘s mouthpiece, he orders, “Stay behind me, Chief. Get on your phone and call Simon. Tell him Yuri‘s on the roof of the Goldman building. Now!”

I quickly dial the call and fill Simon in. When I cut the connection, I turn my attention back to this scene that’s straight out of a spy movie that’s playing out on the streets of Cascade.

Mission Impossible’s got nothing on us.

“What do you want, Yuri?” Jim speaks again into the phone. Even though he‘s still got the phone held out from his face, he’s facing Yuri, and I have to strain to hear the reply.

<“This is an interesting moment, don’t you think? Here we are, two old adversaries facing off again.”>

“Is that why you called? To catch up on old times?”

<”I called to tell you to let the girl go. She’s going to die anyway. There’s no need to hurt innocent people.”>

Jim asks, “Why do you want to kill her?”

<”Ask Vaslova. The death of Micki Kamerev was decided the minute she entered that warehouse. There is nothing you can do to prevent it. The smugglers will be stopped.”>

“You killed a friend of mine in Peru. It’s not going to happen again,” Jim says flatly.

<”I killed many people in Peru. I don’t even remember the names. However, Micki Kamerev is already a dead woman. There is no need for other innocent people to die, perhaps even a third friend of yours, Captain. I take it that is another friend you seek to protect behind you now.”>

Reaching behind, Jim finds my arm and shifts me farther behind him. “Stay back,” he orders quietly. To Yuri, he declares, “It stops here.”

<”Then I wish you luck, Captain. But know this: the next time we meet…I will kill you and whoever else gets in my way.”>

The phone clicks off, and I see the figure on the rooftop disappear. Moving in front of Jim, I look up into a face carved from stone. “Jim? You okay?”

His eyes break away from the roof at last. “Yeah, Chief. Let’s go.” Jim takes off at a run toward the station.


Jim told me to wait in the break room with Vaslova while he filled Simon in, and I’m trying to make the best of the situation. Everybody has their redeeming qualities, right? I’ve just gotta find them in Vaslova.

“Moscow must be pretty exciting these days, huh?” I ask in an attempt to start a conversation about anything but the case at hand. “The divergent cultural pressures, they must be enormous.”

She turns on me in a heartbeat. “ ‘Cultural pressures,’ Mr. Sandburg? The city is falling apart!”

Before I can respond, Jim blows in like a hurricane, with Simon in his wake. “Yuri told me to ask you why Micki is a target. Now, what the hell does that mean? No more lies!”

After a long look from Jim to Simon, she closes the door. “The Russian economy, it is crumbling. Diamonds are one of our few stable sources of income. Smuggling threatens that stability. If too many diamonds are sold, the value of our stones goes down. They cannot allow that to happen.”

Simon barks, “They? They who? Who the hell are we talking about here? The Russian government?”

“There is more than one Russian government, Captain. There are the leaders everyone sees, and then there are the people who are behind them. These people will do whatever is necessary to protect their interests, even if it means hiring assassins.”

I cannot believe what I am hearing. “Is that who hired Yuri? This shadow government?”

“Yes,” she confirms. “To stop the smuggling.”

Jim’s calmer now, but the irritation in his voice is undeniable. “Why didn’t you tell us this before?”

“I come from a country of secrecy, Detective. In Russia, we thrive on suspicion. Being open is a sign of weakness.” A hint of a smile breaks the cold mask. “Perhaps there is something I can learn from you.”

The intercom buzzes, announcing a call for Simon. We all watch him curiously.

“Banks here. What? Well, stall her, damn it!” He slams down the phone. “Micki Kamerev just made bail.”

Jim’s already out the door before he finishes the sentence.


Micki’s in no mood to listen to reason as we trail along after her down the street away from the station.

“Come on, Micki,” Jim argues. “This is stupid! The guy that shot at you could still be out there.”

“I will take my chances.” She strides on in determination.

“He got Dimitri. He almost got you at the warehouse. I mean, at least, at the station, you’re safe.”

She shoots a look at Jim. “When I left Russia, I swore I would never be in prison again.”

I can’t believe her. “Oh, good!” I comment sarcastically. “A lot of good that freedom’s gonna do when you’re dead!”

“Live free or die. That’s the American way!”

“This is suicide,” Jim shouts as we cross the street. “This guy could be out here anywhere.”

The words have scarcely left his mouth when two dark vans screech up, stopping on either side, effectively blocking us in.

“Watch out!” Jim warns, trying to get between me and the guy in the dark suit heading at us. He goes for his gun, but one man stops him as another grabs Micki’s arm.

“Leave me alone!” she protests.

“No sudden moves,” cautions the guy who’s now slipping Jim’s gun into his jacket pocket.

“What the hell’s going on here?” Jim shouts. “Who are you people?”

No one answers him, but two of the suits grab Jim as another firmly grasps my shoulders, escorting us to one of the vans. Micki’s quickly placed in the other, and we take off in opposite directions.

Oh, hell. I’m pushed down on the floor in the windowless back of the van, and Jim is forced down across from me. I stare at him, trying to get a clue about how to handle this situation. Shaking his head, Jim shoots me a look that is half-apology, half-promise.

“It’ll be okay, Chief,” he says softly. “It’ll be okay.”

Act II

Act IV